Georgia’s 6th Congressional District has long been a Republican stronghold. In fact, as recently as 2006 and 2010, Democrats didn’t even put forth a candidate to run for the seat, which was held by former Rep. Tom Price. That all changed when President Donald Trump tapped to Price serve as Health and Human Services secretary.
That put Price’s seat up for grabs, and turned the race into the most high-stakes special election in years. The race, which pit 30-year-old Democrat and political neophyte Jon Ossoff against Republican and Georgia’s former secretary of state Karen Handel, was the most expensive House race in US history. It pulled in more than $50 million, and both Democrats and Republicans billed it as the first major referendum on Trump’s presidency.
But Handel won the seat with 52% of the vote, while Ossoff got 48%. Trump celebrated the victory, tweeting, “Congratulations to Karen Handel on her big win in Georgia 6th. Fantastic job, we are all very proud of you!”
The 6th district is competitive for several reasons. For one, its demographics are significantly different than those of Georgia as a whole in a few critical areas:
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On average, 6th district voters fall into higher income brackets and obtain higher levels of education than Georgia voters do. Sixry percent of voters in the district have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 29% of Georgia voters overall, according to 2015 US Census data. And 6th district voters have a median household income of $83,800, while Georgians have a median household income of $49,600.
Research shows that as the partisan divide has grown in the US, more educated voters have tended to lean Democratic. Moreover, although wealthier voters have voted Republican in the past, polls in 2016 showed those from the richest households favored Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to Trump by a 2-1 margin.
The 6th district also has a higher proportion of white, Asian, and Hispanic voters compared to Georgia as a whole.
The district, which leans eight points more Republican than the rest of the country, favored Trump over Clinton by just one percentage point in November. By comparison, Trump won the state of Georgia by 5.1%.
Demographics, as well as Trump’s election and the fact that he selected Price to serve as Health and Human Services secretary, contributed to a “tremendous amount of energy on both sides in the district, but particularly among Democrats,” said Chip Lake, a Republican strategist in Georgia and former chief of staff on Capitol Hill.
Ossoff and Handel were vying for the open seat after Trump selected Price to join his Cabinet. “And not just any cabinet position,” Lake said. “He’s the Health and Human Services secretary with the sole mission of dismantling Obamacare.”
Democrats saw an opportunity to win a race in a Republican district. “They’ve gone all in to do it,” Lake said before the election results poured in. “Their base is energized, they have the momentum, and that’s why this district is competitive.”
While polls leading up to the race showed an increasingly tight race, and some surveys had Ossoff and Handel polling within the margin of error of one another, the Republican won the day.
“Tonight, let’s celebrate,” Handel said in her victory speech. “Tomorrow, the real work will begin. The hard work of governing and doing that in a civil, responsible way that is in the best interest of every Georgian, every citizen, and every citizen of the United States of America, as we prepare to send Georgia’s first Republican woman to Congress. Thank you, God bless you!”