Kyle Wingfield

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

Opinion: Just like that, Karen Handel has caught up with Jon Ossoff

The first opinion poll since the special election in Georgia's 6th Congressional District shows a 1-point lead for Democrat Jon Ossoff over Republican Karen Handel, within the margin of error.

Here's another way of putting it: It took just one week* for Handel to erase the 28-point gap Ossoff enjoyed in the first round of balloting.

The internal poll, conducted by a Democratic firm, affirms what most seasoned observers expected in the run-off. Buoyed by endorsements from most of her GOP opponents and pretty much every major Republican in the state, Handel is in a solid position to consolidate the party's voters and win the race -- despite the enormous enthusiasm among many in the district for sending a message of defiance against President Trump. Given that the poll was conducted when Ossoff and Democratic groups were already back on TV and radio with ads promoting him and attacking Handel -- while she, as expected, had to take a few days to raise money and regroup -- this is unambiguously good news for her. So is the fact that Handel, who has a reputation as a poor fund-raiser, brought in over $1 million in just one week after the special election. That doesn't count the $750,000 from  a fund-raiser Trump headlined for her in Atlanta last Friday.

If there is anything bad for Handel in the poll, it's that Ossoff continues to galvanize a number of people in the district who don't always vote. That means Handel's ground game will have to be particularly good at prodding the district's reliable Republicans to show up and vote. The GOP managed to do that leading up to the April 18 special election: The astonishing (for a special election) turnout of 43 percent was evidence Democrats weren't the only ones to push people to the polls.

On the other hand, the absence of other details and cross-tabs from the poll's publicly released results makes one wonder if the other news for Ossoff wasn't so great.

In related news, I spoke with a Republican bigwig recently and took away these nuggets about the race:

  • Educated women in the suburban district, who traditionally have voted GOP, continue to be turned off by Trump.
  • The fact that Handel is a woman may help make up for some of that, but only up to a point.
  • Perhaps the biggest thing in this race outside Handel's control -- besides what comes out of Trump's mouth and Twitter account -- is what Congress does between now and the June 20 run-off. Getting a key bill or two out of the House before then (e.g., health care or taxes) could show these newly reluctant Republicans that the party is making progress and bring them back into the fold.

So while this is no time for Republicans to relax, the very early signs in the 6th District run-off are good for Karen Handel.


*The poll of 590 "likely June run-off voters" was conducted April 23-26. It has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

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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.