After pouring in close to $10 million in a little under 60 days into Georgia's 6th Congressional District special election, Democrats needed a knockout victory. This did not happen. Instead, Democrat Jon Ossoff had an impressive finish, garnering 48 percent of the vote, falling just short of the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a run-off set for June 20.
Still, Ossoff told supporters that he is confident that he can win the run-off against Karen Handel, who finished a distant second with about 20 percent of the vote. Handel emerged from a crowded primary finishing second due in large part to her high name ID, having served as Georgia's secretary of state and a county commissioner for Fulton County.
Yes, it was a bruising primary. Handel was harshly attacked from Bob Gray and Dan Moody, her main Republican challengers for being a "career politician" and the "establishment backed" candidate. But now that Handel is the only one standing in the way of a Democrat representing Georgia's 6th congressional district for the first time since the days of a Carter administration, it's unlikely the Republican rank-and-file and conservative activists will remain divided for too long and not vote for Handel in the runoff.
One event to watch will be this coming weekend's Georgia's sixth congressional district Republican Party convention. If the Republican family starts coming together fairly quickly, this will bode well for Handel in the run-off.
Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean that Gray or Moody will start knocking on doors and raising money on behalf of Handel, but in talking to political operatives, most are saying that Gray and Moody supporters will eventually fall in line and cast their vote for Handel.
Handel says that Republicans in the district know that, "…There is too much at stake" for Republicans to remain divided. She is right, but more importantly Republicans outnumber Democrats by a healthy margin. According to the Cook Partisan Voting Index, which rates how much a congressional district leans Republican or Democratic, this suburban Atlanta district has a PVI score of R+8. That's sizable no matter how you slice it.
In short, the dynamics for a special election run-off in a non-presidential year in a safe Republican district between a Democrat and a Republican favors Republicans. It's that simple, no matter how hard Daily Kos would have us believe.
Ultimately, what will doom Democrats is all of the attention that they generated for this special election they really had no business winning. Ossoff is a weak candidate that is hardly an electric, dynamic or natural retail politician. He was, is and will continue to be a vessel for progressive dissatisfaction that still cannot believe that Hillary Clinton lost and Donald Trump is president.
If Democrats were savvier, they would have nominated Ron Slotin, a former state senator with more than three decades of public service and an accomplished businessman. A Republican voter that ended up voting for Karen Handel said that she would have been inclined to vote for Ron Slotin had he received the nomination.
Maybe, but the bigger point is that Democrats tried nationalizing this race and lost. By nominating a candidate that could not even vote for himself because he does not live in the district, Republicans had an easier time portraying Ossoff as an out of touch millennial with no real ties to the district.
In talking to the mild-mannered college educated voters of Georgia's sixth Congressional district, many said that while they may not be Trump's biggest supporters, they are also no fans of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Danny, a millennial and a full-time college student at Kennesaw State University, is convinced that Ossoff will align himself with the most liberal Democratic House members if elected.
It's hard not to see some of the same undercurrents that doomed Clinton's failed bid for the presidency in Georgia's special election. Aloofness, arrogance, and the idea that big money and a rebuke of Donald Trump is all that was needed to secure a victory. It turns out voters still want someone to vote for, not just against.
Ossoff may end up pulling off the mother of all upsets if the Democratic Party continues to stick by him and outside groups respond in kind by doubling-down on their early efforts, but for now it seems Democrats may have overplayed their hand in Georgia's special election.
Karen Handel will likely head to Washington, D.C. to represent Georgia's sixth congressional district come June.
Israel Ortega (@IzzyOrtega