District 6 residents are going to be picking confetti out of their hair tonight. The question is whether the residents will be Democrats or Republicans.
The polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. on the most expensive congressional race in history, in which Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff are fighting for control of District 6, which includes parts of east Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb.
By the time the sun rises Wednesday, residents should know which candidate was able to better convince the voters of their ability to represent the 6th in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Handel is the 54-year-old president of Handel Strategy Group, a consulting firm. She has previously served as Georgia’s secretary of state and chair of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners. She is hoping to keep the formerly bright-red district in the Republican column after former Rep. Tom Price, R-Roswell, left the seat to become the nation’s health secretary.
Though the seat has been safely Republican for a generation, Handel has been unable to claim a significant lead over her Democratic rival, 30-year-old investigative film executive Jon Ossoff. The race is Ossoff’s first attempt to attain elected office. He previously worked on the staff of Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia. Most recent polls suggest a slight lead for Ossoff, but well within the margin of error.
The two have already survived a free-for-all special election in April that included 18 candidates. Ossoff took about 48.1 percent of the vote, missing out on the 50 percent plus one he would have needed to avoid a runoff. Handel took 19.77 percent of the vote, though there were more candidates on the Republican side.
Ossoff and Handel spent the day before the election traveling the district, making their cases to the last few undecideds and trying to inspire their potential voters to head to the polls.
Ossoff’s campaign said he planned to hold events in Chamblee, Sandy Springs, Tucker and Roswell. Handel’s campaign said she had seven stops planned across the district Monday.
THE TRUMP EFFECT
The local race has received a great deal of attention nationwide, and Kennesaw State University political science professor Kerwin Swint said that is largely because of the man in the White House.
“I look at it as a midterm election where the president’s party is fatigued and may not be as motivated,” Swint said. “So much of this election has been about attitudes toward Donald Trump. It’s being portrayed as a referendum on Donald Trump, and I think that’s largely accurate.”
Analysts say a big shift in favor of Democrats could signal the beginning of a national trend that might sweep Republicans out of their leadership positions in Congress in 2018. Swint said the results will give insight into how the parties will behave during the midterms.
“It gives us an idea of how Democrats are going to run in seats like this,” Swint said. “If Ossoff is successful, I think you can expect much of the same approach in 2018 … By 2018, Republicans might have a more coordinated strategy to win the seat back.”
The race looks like it will be a squeaker, and Swint said regardless of whoever ekes out the win, the real story is that the race was so squeaky in the first place.
“Based on the past and based on the voting patterns in the district, this shouldn’t even be close,” Swint said. “The reason it is close is a lot having to do with how you feel about Donald Trump. And if Karen Handel is in danger, it’s because a number of moderate Republicans, especially women who have tended to vote Republican, aren’t thrilled with the way things are going, and they want to send a message. If Ossoff is successful, that’s how this is going to be interpreted, because he can’t win with just Democratic votes. There aren’t enough of them.”
If Handel wins, Swint said it will likely be because she was able to turn out her Republican base, especially in Fulton County.
AN EXPENSIVE RACE
Whoever does not win the race will have spent a lot of other people’s money to not get elected.
Federal Election Commission data from May 31, the most recent filing date, show the two candidates have raised at least $28 million in donations. The majority of that money went to Ossoff, who raised $23.6 million. Handel brought home $4.5 million.
Those figures do not include money raised by outside groups such as political action committees, also known as PACs. Those groups raised about $10.8 million in the race, according to the FEC. About $8.5 million of that money was used to target Ossoff. Groups opposing Handel pitched in about $1.4 million.
None of the FEC’s numbers include any money raised in the weeks since May 31. Issue One, a nonpartisan political reform and government ethics group, estimates the total amount spent on the race by candidates and outside groups at $59.6 million.
All that money has meant residents have been bombarded with reminders of the race. Ossoff and Handel signs have sprouted from yards and roadsides like dandelions. In some east Cobb neighborhoods, residents come home from work to find door hangers with candidates’ smiling faces on every door on their street. It’s hard to watch TV, listen to the radio or browse the web without being reminded to vote.
But despite the inescapability of this race, election fatigue has apparently not kept voters from the polls: early voting numbers have far exceeded those of the April contest. And while voters may not be shying away from the polls, Swint said election overload may be making residents cranky.
“Usually with voter fatigue, voters become disinterested or turned off and maybe don’t show up,” Swint said. “The other kind of fatigue is the kind that’s more noticeable in this one, where voters become more edgy, angry and irate. When that happens, voters become more likely to show up. I think we’re seeing some of that here with early voting numbers that are eye-popping, off the charts.”
In Cobb, 27,257 people voted early in the runoff compared to 11,860 in the original contest in April. In the overall district, over 140,000 voters cast their ballots early for the runoff, compared with 57,000 in April.
Whoever wins tonight will have little time for confetti and champagne. The winner will have to fight for their seat once again in November 2018 as the remainder of Price’s term expires at the end of that year.
“They’re going to be in kind of a unique situation, having just gotten there and so much of their time will be spent running for re-election,” Swint said. “No matter who wins, both sides are going to focus really intently on holding on to that seat. Even though in 2018 there will be 434 other races going on, you’ll still be hearing about this one, and there will be a significant amount of money thrown at this one.”
In other words, to the cranky voters of District 6, enjoy your brief respite from being campaigned at.
“The sequel is coming real soon,” Swint said.
If you live in District 6, are registered to vote and have not yet voted, polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. To see information including your polling place, visit www.mvp.sos.ga.gov, and be sure to bring your ID.