Republican Karen Handel Wins Georgia Special Election

Jun 21, 2017
Originally published on June 23, 2017 7:39 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here's one thing Democrats would need to have any chance of winning back the House of Representatives in 2018. They would need to win some more conservative districts. Often, they're districts drawn by Republican legislatures to be safe for Republicans - in short, districts like the 6th District of Georgia, where Democrats tried but came up short in a special election last night. Republican Karen Handel defeated Jon Ossoff, the Democrat.

NPR's Don Gonyea is in Sandy Springs, Ga. Don, good morning.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How close was it?

GONYEA: Fifty-two to 48. I mean, that's close. That's close in a Republican district. Right? And this race exceeded expectations when it comes to money spent, but the result didn't follow suit. The margin of victory was not the razor-thin, up-all-night gap that many were expecting. It was a clear victory, and Karen Handel did it by getting turnout going by mobilizing her base. And Steve, it's important to remember this was a runoff. In the first vote back in April, she only got 20 percent to Ossoff's 48 percent. He just missed becoming the congressman on that night.

But Republicans kind of took that as a wake-up call. Clearly, they worked on getting out the vote, even as she was greatly outspent. And she spoke to her supporters last night, kind of looking at the history of this district - it was once represented by former Speaker Newt Gingrich, most recently Tom Price. Give a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAREN HANDEL: We have a lot of work to do, a lot of problems that we need to solve. We need to finish the drill on health care.

UNIDENTIFIED HANDEL SUPPORTERS: Yeah.

(APPLAUSE)

HANDEL: We've got to do a better job for this economy so that we can create more jobs and better-paying jobs. And we've got to do more for creating jobs, especially in the small-business community.

INSKEEP: So the bottom line here, Don, is pretty plain. A Republican won in an election that was cast as a referendum on President Trump. But is there a little more nuance in the specific numbers you just laid out?

GONYEA: You know, again, remember Tom Price, the outgoing congressman and the current health secretary, won it by more than 20 points last go-round, so there's some consolation there for Democrats. But look, this is still a missed opportunity, even if it was a steep climb. Here's Ossoff last night speaking to his supporters after he called Handel to concede.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JON OSSOFF: We showed the world that in places where no one thought it was even possible to fight, we could fight.

(APPLAUSE)

OSSOFF: We showed them...

(APPLAUSE)

OSSOFF: ...That we can still build coalitions of people who may not see eye to eye on everything. But rather than demonizing each other, we find common ground to move forward. And that's the only way this country will move forward.

(CHEERING)

INSKEEP: So he's an ambitious guy. He's 30 years old. Who knows? We might hear from him again but not in Congress this time around. And I want to ask about this, Don Gonyea, because President Trump's approval ratings are very low. He's not popular. He wasn't so popular even in this Republican-leaning district. But it seems clear, if you just kind of eyeball the numbers, there must have been people who disapprove of President Trump but still were willing to vote for a Republican for Congress. They were willing to separate her from him. Is that a troubling message if you're a Democrat?

GONYEA: Yeah. She was able to tie him to national Democrats and outside money and to Nancy Pelosi. So Nancy Pelosi probably hurt him more than Donald Trump hurt her. And the other thing is Ossoff did not really go after Trump hard over the course of this campaign.

INSKEEP: OK. NPR's Don Gonyea in Georgia, thanks.

GONYEA: Pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.