Not the best. Really not terrific!
Handel trails Democratic upstart Jon Ossoff 51% to 44% at this hour, close enough in a low-turnout, stand-alone runoff to be anyone’s call, though clearly Ossoff is in a better position than is Handel.
The district is Republican leaning but not Republican invincible: Trump carried the district in 2016, but only by 1.5 percentage points, compared to, say, the neighboring 9th Congressional District, which Trump carried by 58 percentage points.
Ossoff does not live in the 6th Congressional District, but voters shrug. 84% of Democrats and 21% of Republicans say the residency doesn’t bother them. Karen Handel does not have a college degree, but voters shrug. 45% of Democrats and 76% of Republicans say it is not an issue for them at all.
The first round of this election was hyped by victory-starved Democrats as the first step back towards retaking power in Washington. It was a jungle primary with Ossoff the lone credible Democrat pitted against a divided field of Republicans, giving him a decent shot at winning Tom Price’s vacant House seat outright with 50.1 percent of the vote. He came up just short at 48, pushing him into a runoff against Republican Karen Handel. Handel was favored to win in what’s still a reddish district; as recently as two weeks ago, polls showed her two points up on Ossoff, who had stalled at 46.5 percent of the vote. Two weeks later, after a drumbeat of stories about Comey and Russia and Flynn and leaks, Trump’s job approval in the district is 34/51 and Handel is suddenly down seven. Here’s where I insert the obligatory caveat that It’s Just One Poll, with both candidates insisting that they believe the race is neck and neck. If Ossoff does pull this off next month, though, it’s going to send the GOP into a pre-midterm panic and boost Democratic morale sky high. It’ll be treated as proof that, although most Republicans are immune to Trump’s political stumbles, a small but critical number are not.
To see what I mean, compare the Democratic and Republican numbers in today’s Survey USA poll. The top line is Handel, the second line is Ossoff, third is undecided:
No matter where you are on the Democratic spectrum, it’s a cinch that you’re behind Ossoff. On the Republican spectrum, though, as you move further from the base towards the center, the crossover vote grows. Whether that’s because of misgivings about Handel or misgivings about Trump, I’ll leave to close observers of Georgia politics to say. I know how I’d bet, though. Of note, too: The GOP health-care bill may poll dismally nationally but support and opposition are divided in this district evenly at 47 percent. It’s not a huge albatross around Handel’s neck, which feeds the suspicion that Trump’s problems are the bigger headache for her.
This isn’t the only House special election making the GOP nervous, by the way. Casual political observers aren’t paying much attention to the race for Ryan Zinke’s vacant seat in Montana, but maybe they should:
The latest GOP polling shows Gianforte with a narrow lead. And for the first time, the President’s approval numbers have dropped underwater in this Trump-friendly state. A Republican poll conducted May 14-16 found just 46 percent of Montana voters viewing President Trump favorably, while 47 percent viewed him unfavorably. This, in a state where Trump won 56 percent of the vote, one of his strongest performances in the country.
Two polls published earlier this month had the Republican, Greg Gianforte, leading Democrat Rob Quist by single digits — again, in Montana. A new poll out today from Gravis gives Gianforte some breathing room, putting him up 14, but Roll Call noted as recently as yesterday that the election was creeping towards “toss-up” status and Gianforte himself has taken to warning Republican voters that the race is closer than it should be. Montana votes on Thursday. If Quist pulls the upset there, all hell’s going to break loose.