Here are five takeaways from the two special elections on Tuesday: The victory of Republican Karen Handel over Democrat Jon Ossoff in the sixth district of Georgia, and also, the much-less-heralded victory of Republican Ralph Norman in the fifth district of South Carolina.
First, all politics is local. The former incumbent in Georgia 6, Tom Price, now President Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary, had an invincibly safe seat for more than a decade; he was re-elected in 2016 with 62 percent of the vote. And yet at the same time, Donald Trump won the suburban Atlanta district with just 48 percent last year, edging out Hillary by a single point.
In fact, Georgia 6 is changing: Although it is routinely described as “ruby red,” it is not. Like many affluent suburban districts nationwide, the white-collar folks there don’t see themselves as Trump Nation. Moreover, the sixth is increasingly diverse, in part because affluence attracts an ever-growing population of service- and domestic workers, most of whom are non-white and all of whom are non-affluent. And so Price’s ability to win the district easily was a tribute to Price himself, and to the power of incumbency.
By contrast, Handel, Price’s replacement, has had a middling track record in electoral politics. Having won, and lost, in local government, she was elected to be Georgia’s secretary of state in 2006, and then, four years later, she lost the GOP gubernatorial primary. So while Handel obviously has her strengths, she was no vote-monster; her ultimate showing on Tuesday lagged nearly ten points behind Price’s benchmark.
Similarly, in South Carolina 5, Mick Mulvaney, now Trump’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget, had won huge in that district—by 21 points last year. By contrast, this year, Norman, running against a self-funding Wall Streeter, Archie Parnell, won by a mere four points.
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