Learn­ing the right les­son from Ge­or­gia cliffhanger

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - MERCEDES SCH­LAPP Mercedes Sch­lapp is a Fox News con­trib­u­tor, co-founder of Cove Strate­gies and for­mer White House di­rec­tor of spe­cialty me­dia un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush.

There was a lot on his plate this week, but Pres­i­dent Trump man­aged to keep a close eye on that spe­cial elec­tion for an open House seat in Ge­or­gia. He ac­tively tweeted on the race, crit­i­ciz­ing lead­ing Demo­cratic can­di­date Jon Os­soff, a 30-year-old film­maker and one­time Hill staffer, even as out­side Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can groups poured mil­lions of dol­lars into the race.

While Mr. Os­soff failed to clear the 50 per­cent thresh­old and avoid a runoff, he cre­ated a sense of panic within the GOP that he rep­re­sents a new wave of anti-Trump can­di­dates for en­er­gized Democrats look­ing to score big gains in the 2018 midterms. Mr. Os­soff seems in a strong po­si­tion, get­ting over 48 per­cent of the vote in a crowded field.

But not so fast — vot­ers also picked Karen Han­del, a for­mer Ge­or­gia sec­re­tary of state, who is by far the best Repub­li­can can­di­date for the district, to face Mr. Os­soff in the June runoff.

Fol­low­ing elec­tion night, Mr. Trump tweeted out that “Dems failed in [last week’s Kansas spe­cial elec­tion] and are fail­ing in Ge­or­gia. … It is now Hol­ly­wood vs. Ge­or­gia on June 20th.”

Sev­eral fac­tors played to the Democrats’ fa­vor in Tues­day’s vote.

First, 11 Repub­li­can can­di­dates ran in the pri­mary. (You would think Repub­li­cans would have learned their les­son by now about hav­ing too many can­di­dates af­ter watch­ing the messy pres­i­den­tial pri­mary process last year.) Eleven can­di­dates against a solid Demo­crat pick, one who is re­ceiv­ing tons of out­side money, pre­sented a tremen­dous ad­van­tage to Mr. Os­soff. Add to that the main­stream me­dia’s ob­ses­sion with any new shiny ob­ject that rep­re­sents any­thing anti-Trump, and Mr. Os­soff was prac­ti­cally coro­nated as the new face of the Demo­cratic re­sis­tance be­fore the first vote was cast.

The Ge­or­gia district, for­merly held by cur­rent Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Tom Price, is chang­ing. It’s an Atlanta sub­urb with high in­comes and high ed­u­ca­tion lev­els, grow­ing more di­verse with in­creas­ing num­bers of His­pan­ics and Asians mov­ing in. While Mr. Price was pop­u­lar in the district, the district no longer rates as safe Repub­li­can ter­ri­tory. Mr. Trump won the district by only 1 per­cent­age point over Hil­lary Clin­ton in Novem­ber.

Sen­a­tor Lind­sey Graham said this week that the race was a warn­ing to the GOP: “The South is chang­ing. … I like our chances in a runoff, but we need to wake up as a party. There’s districts like this all over the coun­try that are get­ting much more mod­er­ate.”

The district may be tran­si­tion­ing, but I dis­agree with Mr. Graham’s pre­scrip­tion. There is no need for Repub­li­can can­di­dates to tem­per their con­ser­vatism, as he sug­gested. Mr. Price was no mod­er­ate. In fact, he is a so­cial con­ser­va­tive who fo­cused on is­sues such as eco­nomic growth and health care, which are crit­i­cally im­por­tant to the vot­ers. Ac­cord­ing to a for­mer Repub­li­can county chair­man in Ge­or­gia, the GOP needs to broaden its tar­get au­di­ence and sell its eco­nomic agenda of in­no­va­tion and in­vest­ment in lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties in a way that holds ap­peal for the grow­ing mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tions.

Ms. Han­del nicely fits the Tom Price model of fo­cus­ing on eco­nomic devel­op­ment. She does not need to com­pro­mise her con­ser­va­tive prin­ci­ples to at­tract vot­ers.

As a for­mer pres­i­dent and CEO of the Ful­ton County Cham­ber of Com­merce, Ms. Han­del has the right eco­nomic ex­pe­ri­ence and in­sight for this district and could strongly ap­peal to subur­ban women. Mr. Os­soff, as Mr. Trump rightly pointed out, is con­nected to ex­treme na­tional lib­eral groups and part of the Hol­ly­wood elite who do not rep­re­sent the district.

The anti-Trump mes­sage may not be strong enough for the Democrats to claim vic­tory in June. While the Democrats are hoping to send a mes­sage, vot­ers ap­pear poised to send Karen Han­del to Congress.

Karen Han­del

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