If not the most important, certainly the most overhyped. It’s the special election in Georgia’s Sixth District, touted for months by victory-starved Democrats and their friends in the media as a possible launchpad for a national comeback in 2018. Because of that, the Democrat in the race, 30-year-old Jon Ossoff, has been showered with cash from liberals nationally. Earlier this month he reported fundraising of $8.3 million; to put that in perspective, among the 435 House races last fall, the only candidates to raise more were Paul Ryan and Democrat Randy Perkins, who dumped more than $10 million of his own dough into his campaign (and lost). The left is heavily invested in this race — literally. Which is good news for Republican candidates elsewhere, since every dollar spent on Ossoff now in hopes of a largely meaningless moral victory is a dollar that can’t be spent on a more consequential race later.
Apart from Ossoff’s enormous financial advantage, the other reason for optimism on the left is the fact that this is a “jungle primary” and he’s a lone Democrat matched up against multiple Republicans. In a jungle primary, all candidates appear on the same ballot and the top two finishers (regardless of party) proceed to a runoff in June — but if any one candidate cracks 50 percent, he wins the seat outright. The Republican vote is divided a dozen different ways so Ossoff’s the only person in the race with a chance to hit 50. He’s polling on average at around 42 percent right now, but one recent poll had him at 45 and the margin of polling error in special elections is large historically — around 8.5 percent, per Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight. Not only that, but as noted this morning, this district wasn’t a runaway Trump victory last fall. He won it by just one thin point over Clinton, 48/47, a massive drop-off after Romney’s 23-point win over Obama in 2012. Republican victory in the runoff isn’t a foregone conclusion.
Combine all of that with Ossoff’s massive fundraising resources and the possibility that polls taken in the district have overlooked younger, more irregular Democratic voters and, yeah, there’s a chance that Ossoff hits 50 tonight and wins. The fact that Trump was tweeting about the race this morning in hopes of boosting Republican turnout in the district proves that the White House is worried about it. And now that Trump has, if Ossoff wins anyway, the press will treat the outcome as an even more direct repudiation of the president by a red-leaning district than they otherwise would have. Expect pants-wetting jubilation in the media tomorrow like you haven’t seen in ages if Ossoff pulls it off, plus a million and one hot takes that a big blue wave is on the way next fall. (Trump has 18 months to engineer/hope for an economic upturn that would stop that in its tracks, but never let an inconvenient fact stand in the way of a good narrative.) If Ossoff doesn’t pull it off and hit 50, tomorrow’s conventional wisdom will depend on his actual number. Virtually everyone agrees that he stands a chance in the runoff no matter what, but anything short of Hillary’s 46.8 percent last year will be spun by the GOP as a disappointment for Democrats. After all, with the left so hungry for victory, with Trump’s job approval at an anemic 42 percent nationally, and with Ossoff enjoying so many advantages, he should be able to top Clinton’s mark, at least. We’ll see.
The polls close early in Georgia, at 7 p.m. ET, so you can follow the race this evening without fear of a late night. One thing all data nerds agree on: The early vote will break heavily for Ossoff, so expect a huge lead for the Democrat when the first votes are reported followed by a steady diminution as the more Republican-leaning election-day votes are gradually added to the total. How huge is important, though. Enten calculates that anything short of 60 percent for Ossoff among early voters likely means he won’t reach the winning 50 percent mark overall. Nate Cohn estimates that Hillary won 57 percent of early voters in the Sixth District en route to her overall finish of 46.8 percent, so that’s an early benchmark for Ossoff. Another benchmark courtesy of Enten: The county by county vote, in case you’re following results at a more granular level.
— FiveThirtyEight (@FiveThirtyEight) April 18, 2017
Virtually every data site, from FiveThirtyEight to The Upshot to Decision Desk HQ and on and on, will be tracking results live tonight. Given the left’s intense interest in the race, all three cable news networks are likely to have live coverage too. Stand by for updates beginning at 7. For what it’s worth, Karl Rove is officially “concerned.”
Update: Tea leaves from the AJC:
Political analysts are getting wound up about a pair of Sandy Springs districts that could signal a stronger-than-expected Democratic turnout.
The first is a precinct that Democrat Michelle Nunn won with 78 percent of the vote in 2014, meaning that it’s a trove of potential votes for Democrat Jon Ossoff. Turnout in that precinct has nearly doubled on Tuesday, an astounding fete for a special election.
The second is a precinct in a more conservative stretch of Sandy Springs where Nunn only got about a third of the votes. Turnout there is only about half of what it was in 2014.
“That ain’t good,” texted one GOP operative.
Update: Well, so much for the 7 p.m. closing time.
Polls will remain open at 2 precincts in Fulton County for a while longer, all results delayed 1 hour from that authority.
— Decision Desk HQ (@DecisionDeskHQ) April 18, 2017
Update: First results are coming in at 7:52 ET. As expected, Ossoff has a big early-vote number — 71 percent out of DeKalb County. That’s almost exactly what one forecaster predicted he’d need from the early vote in DeKalb to hit 50 percent overall tonight. Hmmm.
Update: If you’re following live, the best page I’ve seen tonight for results is the NYT’s. Not only do they have district-wide results, they have them by county in case you’re comparing Ossoff’s totals to Harry Enten’s benchmarks above.
Update: Another sign of a big night for Ossoff:
Ossoff over 50% in DeKalb's Silver Lake precinct for Election Day votes – 648 of 1284 precinct went 45.47 Trump to 45.38 Clinton #gapol
— Todd Rehm (@toddmr) April 19, 2017
Update: Cobb County is coming in now. More good news for Ossoff:
Ossoff at 57% in the Cobb County early vote. That's more impressive than the DeKalb tally. Ossoff on track for 2/3 of the EV
— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) April 19, 2017
Update: Turnout is huge in blue DeKalb County. Can the GOP make it up elsewhere?
Update: And now the early vote from Fulton County is coming in, with Ossoff at 61 percent. Those are all good numbers for him. Now we wait for the election-day vote to see if the GOP can push him below 50.
Update: Forecasters are expecting anywhere from 140,000 to 165,000 votes cast tonight. About a third of that range is in right now — 53,000+ votes — and Ossoff has 62.2 percent of the vote.
Update: And now, as the election-day vote comes in, Ossoff has predictably begun to drop. With 55,000+ votes counted, he’s dipped to 60.6 percent. That’s how it’ll go the rest of the night as of 8:45 ET — Ossoff sliding steadily from his early-vote totals. The only suspense is on which he side of the 50 percent line he lands.
Update: Is Ossoff a loser in the runoff if he finishes shy of 50 tonight? Not necessarily. It depends on how shy.
But even if Ossoff falls just short, with 48%-49%, he's likely to win the runoff. Dems, aided by DJT, made race a referendum on Trump, no? https://t.co/a9dp0I7Svf
— Stuart Rothenberg (@StuPolitics) April 19, 2017
Update: 66,000+ votes in now and Ossoff has taken a hit, dropping to 57.8 percent overall. Sean Trende of RCP says that if that pace keeps up, Ossoff will finish way below 50.
Update: The election-day vote even in blue DeKalb County isn’t what Ossoff needs:
Now 29/43 DeKalb precincts are in, and Ossoff (D) down to 58% in DeKalb. That is short of what Ossoff needs. #GA06
— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) April 19, 2017
Update: As Ossoff continues to slide — he’s at 55 percent with 90,000 votes counted — it’s worth noting that Republican Karen Handel increasingly seems like a sure thing to finish second, guaranteeing her a spot in the runoff if Ossoff finishes short of 50. She’s at 16.4 percent right now; the next two Republicans, Dan Moody and Bob Gray, are each stuck between eight and nine percent.
Update: At 9:30 ET, forecaster Dave Wasserman says he’s seen enough to predict that Ossoff falls short of 50:
— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) April 19, 2017
Update: A big batch of votes from deep red Cobb County just came in at 9:45 ET and Ossoff is suddenly down to 50.8 percent. Data nerds on Twitter think it’s likely that he’ll outperform Hillary but nearly all are expecting a runoff now.
Update: With 135,000 votes in, Ossoff has slipped to 50.1 percent. Sean Trende notes that nearly all of DeKalb County is now in and Ossoff is only slightly outperforming Hillary Clinton — who went on to finish with 47 percent of the district overall.
Remember kids, if you run for state office and get every democrat from every other state to donate millions, you too could almost win. #GA06
— BigHeadSports (@BigHeadSports) April 19, 2017
Update: Liberals are already shifting to “moral victory” mode on Twitter, noting that Ossoff will end up vastly outperforming the Democrat who got squashed by Tom Price in last year’s GA-6 election. Right, but that Democrat was a nobody, not a guy in a national media spotlight with $8 million in the bank. Ossoff may well end up outperforming Hillary Clinton, which ain’t nothing, but that’s no guarantee of victory head-to-head with Handel in June.
Update: Much of the vote in Fulton County has been out for awhile as of 10:40 ET but there’s little mystery about which way it’s going to go:
Here's the vote counted and our estimate for what's left (Fulton) pic.twitter.com/l38T7ISTj5
— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) April 19, 2017
Update: Stillllll waiting on Fulton but Decision Desk sounds confident that we’re headed for a runoff.
Update: For cripes sake. The vote count from Fulton is delayed due to … technical difficulties. I’m calling it quits at 11:30 ET. A runoff is almost a sure thing.