Of all the House races that Republicans lost on Tuesday, this one hit closest to home. Literally. Karen is a friend, and until a few months ago I lived just outside of the 6th district here in Georgia. The seat was on the national list of those that Democrats hoped to flip, but there really wasn't a lot of concern among local Republicans that Karen Handel would lose. Phil Kent confidently predicted on Fox 5 news that she would maintain her lead. After all, the Democrats threw everything they had at it just last year in "The Most Expensive House Race in History," and came up short. Nobody thought this time would be any different.
But it was.
This morning, Karen Handel conceded defeat and Lucy McBath will be heading to Congress in January. How could a district flip in such a short time? You can't blame it on the Republican candidate choice since it was the same one in both races. You can't really say there was a difference in the issues since both Ossoff and McBath campaigned as liberals. The demographic makeup of the district couldn't have changed that much in such a short time. So, what made the difference and what can both parties learn from it.
- The 6th district followed the 2018 trend of suburban districts going blue. During the 2016 presidential primary, Marco Rubio only won 3 counties in Georgia: Fulton, Cobb and Dekalb. Those would be the 3 counties that make up the 6th district. My point? These are "Rubio Republicans," not "Trump Republicans." And many of them, especially women voters, are tired of the whole Trump show.
In fact, the bigger story on the local level is that the Republican party was essentially eliminated in Dekalb County. Not only did Handel lose, but 20 year state Senator Fran Millar lost his election as well. So did freshman state rep Megan Hanson. And an open seat vacated by Tom Taylor also flipped. In 2016, voters in this area went for Clinton over Trump but still returned their local Republicans to office. Not this time. We don't know yet if this will be a permanent realignment or if it's just a temporary thing.
- The national media didn't make Lucy McBath their liberal poster girl. In 2016, Jon Ossoff got the same fawning media treatment that Beto O'Rourke did this year. And yet both guys lost. Maybe local voters don't like the white hot spotlight shining on them. Apparently, McBath did pretty well without it.
3. Hollywood stayed away. Alyssa Milano did not travel to Georgia to knock on doors for Lucy McBath. She didn't get rallies with Oprah and Obama. And yet she won.
4. Race didn't enter into it. A black woman will now be representing a majority white district and nobody made a big thing about it. Contrast that with the campaign Stacey Abrams just ran and the actions of some of her supporters.
5. McBath had a compelling personal story. Her son was murdered in 2012 and she became a gun control activist in response. She ran some good ads telling that story. (Gun control isn't as anathema to suburban mom voters as it is to the Republican party as a whole. Will gun control become a problem for Republicans like abortion has for Democrats?)
6. Lucy McBath actually lives in the district. Karen Handel hammered Jon Ossoff on this issue. He didn't live in the 6th district. He lived in the 4th. He made excuses about his fiance needing to finish school, yadayadayada, but it actually mattered to voters. There were some rumblings about McBath still having a car registered in Tennessee, but it didn't seem to register with anyone.
7. The Republicans were caught off guard. It's been all hands on deck for Georgia Republicans aiding Brian Kemp in fighting off Stacey Abrams. Apparently, more effort should have been placed on this house race, along with the one in the 7th where Rob Woodall maintains a slight lead. Would more money have helped? More GOTV efforts? They certainly wouldn't have hurt. I do think that Handel made the right decision to keep Trump out of the race, given the distaste local Republicans had for him. But maybe not. Someone will have to do a deep dive into the numbers and see if there's any evidence of Trump voters staying home (but I doubt it with the Governor's race so close.)
So, to Democrats: leave the celebrities at home and pick good local candidates who actually live in the district where they're running. And to Republicans, figure out how you're going to win back suburban voters short of waiting for Trump to leave office.
I wish Karen well and I hope she runs for office again. I also wish my friends back in Dekalb good luck, because they are now entirely without Republican representation at any level (except for one county commissioner.)