Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Opinion: Close call in 6th should leave both GOP, Democrats uneasy

The vote-counting in Georgia's 6th Congressional District was closer than most Republicans would have liked -- and ran later than anyone would have liked; seriously, Fulton County??!? -- but in the end neither side had to change the talking points it prepared earlier in the day.

Democrats: It should have never been so close in a gerrymandered Republican district!

Republicans: Jon Ossoff spent $8 million in two months and got (basically) the same number as Hillary Clinton last fall!

The truth is somewhere in the middle. It's clear the Democrats enjoyed an enthusiasm advantage and may have solidified the ground they won among independents last fall. (Losing independent voters was one concern I heard from some of the Republican campaigns leading up to Tuesday.) To the extent that's true more generally than in this special election -- and turnout of 40 percent is pretty substantial -- it seems to signal something of a problem for Republicans in the Trump era with higher-income, college-educated voters who have tended to vote for them over the years. It is also notable that the candidates who most closely embraced President Trump finished poorly. As I write this, just after 1 a.m., the most pro-Trump candidates finished a distant third (Bob Gray), fifth (Dan Moody) and 10th (Bruce LeVell). (UPDATE: With the final votes tallied, Moody moved barely into fourth place, for what that's worth.) The Republican whose campaign was least hitched to the president, Karen Handel, is the one who very easily advanced to the run-off with a total just higher than Gray's and Moody's combined.

But. But ...

It is pretty remarkable that Ossoff could raise more than $8 million, a record for a congressional race in Georgia, and hardly move the number for his party. Clinton got 46.8 percent in the district in November. Ossoff was at 48.3 percent when I finally went to bed. That's a gain of 1.5 percentage points. If he gets another 1.5 points in the run-off, he'll ... still lose. (UPDATE: The final tally showed Ossoff at 48.1 percent, for a 1.3-point gain.) And most of the other leading Republican candidates have already rallied behind Handel, indicating there won't be any lingering fractiousness from the jumbled field.

So here's where I think the two parties are in the early months of the Trump era: The Republicans still aren't quite sure how to embrace him, and the Democrats still aren't quite sure how to attack him to any effect. That means Republicans will lose some voters in places like the 6th, but not enough (yet) to lose races in which they're favored -- unlike Democrats, who lost some very key races across the country last fall in places where they lost significantly more voters.

I'll have some more thoughts after getting some sleep, but I do know this: I'll rest much more easily than I expect out of those working for either party or surviving campaign.

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.