By: Michael Rummel
Few things are clear in the political landscape of 2018. Predictable trends and strategies haven’t found a place in a political landscape so thoroughly dominated by the drama that engulfs the West Wing. One of the few things that has remained clear in the past year is the rising political tide of the left, the ‘blue wave’. Years of apathy under the Obama administration were cast aside by the Trump election, and an incredible surge of activism and political enthusiasm has led to numerous Democratic victories in traditionally Republican districts around the country.
The question vexing Georgia Democrats this cycle, however, is whether the wave will carry across the Midwest to the ‘Solid South’. The 6th District of the Peach State will be one of the most important litmus tests. Ossoff’s close defeat to Karen Handel in 2017 put a sour taste in Democrats’ mouth, both in the state and nationally, but Ossoff’s valiant failure did not prevent a crowded primary for the 2018 election.
The two candidates that emerged from the Primary, Lucy McBath, and Kevin Abel, boast vastly different experiences but relatively similar platforms. McBath, a prominent gun control activist, has more name recognition and a national platform to go alongside her moderate left ideas. Abel is a long-time business owner in Georgia and an immigrant from South Africa, and he’s using these facets of himself to push his vision on the issues of economics and immigration.
The runoff will likely be close, and whoever wins will have to pivot quickly to run against Handel. It will be an uphill battle. Traditionally, the incumbent has the advantage, and Handel’s general lack of activity in Congress will not be enough to lose it. While unproductive, she has managed to escape the tsunami of absurdity that is Washington D.C. unscathed. Swaying traditional Republican voters from what is a generally safe vote will be a difficult task.
The winner of the runoff will also face a difficult challenge in raising a warchest to compete with Handel’s. Currently, Handel has an impressive $815,000 on hand to go with her incumbency. In contrast, Abel has a little over $110,000, and McBath has close to $69,000. Handel ran uncontested in the Republican primary, and doesn’t have a runoff to deal with either. It’s likely that her lead in fundraising will only increase after the runoff.
Unfortunately for the eventual democratic winner, extensive financial support from national groups is unlikely to follow their victory. The Democratic Party is dealing with a double edged sword. Candidates are plentiful, which is great for the party’s prospects going into the midterms, but money is a finite resource. There’s only so much of it to go around, and the DNC and DCCC are already spread thin. McBath could bring in some money from national gun control groups, but the NRA could easily follow with strong support for Handel.
Now, money isn’t everything in politics. It certainly helps, but candidates who are outspent can still find themselves giving victory speeches. Both of the Democratic challengers have strong personal stories to go along with an actual platform, something Ossoff lacked when he ran for the seat in the Special Election. Handel, on the other hand, has a long and largely unsuccessful career in Georgia politics. She’s never been terribly popular, and lacks the charisma that can be a gamechanger in close races. Making the race close, however, will be a difficult task in itself.
Her challengers will find a tough road ahead no matter how well they run their campaign. GA-06 still leans Republican, and not enough has changed in the past few years to turn a Congressional race into a true toss-up. However, Handel’s seat in the House is not a guarantee. If the winner of the runoff runs close to a perfect campaign, her seat will be in serious jeopardy.
In GA-06, the wave will need some extra pull.