The Corner

Politics & Policy

In Georgia, ‘The Left Is Coming; the Question Is, Do Our Voters Come Out?’

This coming week is a busy one, as reflected in the Morning Jolt. The Supreme Court will be asked to determine if partisan redistricting is unconstitutional — now? Now?!? — sponsors are fleeing from a performance of Julius Caesar where the title character reminds many of Trump, and Ralph Reed previews the most expensive House race in American history:

The Outlook on the Seemingly-Eternal Georgia Special House Election Runoff

I spoke with Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, about a variety of topics Friday but perhaps the most interesting comment was his assessment of the runoff election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, now officially the most expensive House race in American history and eight days away from completion.

“The race is effectively tied, a jump ball,” Reed said, noting that one poll had Democrat Jon Ossoff ahead by 7 and another had Republican Karen Handel ahead by 2, and adding he didn’t have reason to think one poll was more accurate than another.

One of the reasons that the race as grown so expensive is that this is a high-stakes race where the runoff is well into its second month. Republicans have controlled the seat for nearly four decades, but Ossoff fell just short of winning the 50 percent necessary to avoid the runoff on April 18. More than 75,000 early votes have been cast in the runoff so far; that’s ahead of the roughly 55,000 early ballots cast in the first round. That may reflect voter exhaustion with the runoff, as the television advertising has been relentless.

Reed said that his organization aims to contact roughly 100,000 voters in the district – twice by mail and three times by phone, and by the time the runoff is done, they expect to have knocked on 22,000 doors. The Faith and Freedom Coalition will also disperse 100,000 voter guides to churches in the district.

“It’s not Trump country,” Reed said of the district overall. “North Fulton, that’s our sweet spot: mega-churches, strip malls, and office towers. If we get our 100,000 voters out, we’re fine. The Left is coming; the question is, do our voters come out?”

After such an intense air war, there’s no harm in bringing in Vice President Mike Pence and using other national GOP figures in the closing days to hammer home the Handel campaign messages. “The race is nationalized at this point,” Reed said.

Reed said he doesn’t think the runoff is a useful measuring stick for the 2018 midterms. “Unless you can recreate $30 million in spending in each district, it’s hard to replicate,” Reed said, and the open seat dynamic won’t be in place for most of the House races in 2018. “If Republicans had [the previous longtime incumbent] Tom Price running, the race would not be competitive.”

Still, Reed was far from guaranteeing a victory for Handel. “Ossoff, he’s a very good candidate – he’s done well in the debates and stays on message,” Reed said. “No matter what the polls say, you should always run like you’re behind. We are today where the Democrats were in 2009 and 2010” – meaning that the opposition party, suddenly finding itself with no control of anything in Washington, is fired up and the majority party is in danger of complacency.

Sunday Liam Donovan made a related point: Ossoff is running strong in part because his central message is attacking both parties on “wasteful spending” – something I would contend is pretty conservative argument. Will Democrats accept their House members running on a message like this in 2018? Can the average Democratic challenger win a primary with a message like that when the party’s grassroots are full of anti-Trump fury?

Today on NRO, Blake Seitz writes, “that any Democrat is polling ahead of a Republican in this slice of suburbia should be a firebell in the night for establishment-GOP leaders. Having been reduced to rubble during the Obama years, Democrats are reemerging in unexpected places. The cracks of a populist–cosmopolitan split with national implications may be widening in the suburbs.”