The Georgia’s 6th Congressional District Special Election is today. It won’t determine the future of politics in America, just the destiny of two political movements: Trump’s momentum and the Resistance. The race in the Sixth equals early midterm. At this moment, the entire electoral will of the two parties is bent towards the Sixth. Incidentally, this particular broken-jawed battle happens to be in the backyard of your favorite quality periodical, Paste Magazine.
The Republicans nominated Karen Handel, the former Secretary of State of Georgia, whose most recent quotable moment was the winning line “I do not support a livable wage.” Handel organized the 2012 Komen Foundation’s backstab of Planned Parenthood, which dealt a body blow to that charity and her career. She later wrote a book called Planned Bullyhood.
Batting for the Democrats is Jon Ossoff, 30 years old, a former documentary filmmaker with John Lewis’ blessing. He spent most of his career on Capitol Hill. Ossoff also doesn’t believe in single-payer health care. He’s done what Corporate Democrats do—raise a lot of money—and not much else for the Revolution. Still, the media feted him. MSNBC called him “the face of the resistance,” which tells you more about MSNBC than it does Ossoff. He is the great hope of the Democratic establishment against the Orange Menace.
But Congressional races are as common as mouth-curses and tetanus nails. They happen every two years. This would not explain why the Republicans are running a campaign straight from the book of Rove, refitted for the age of Trump. When the GOP is scared, there is literally no holy ground. My colleague Jacob Weindling published a list of their tactics.
An ordinary run-off would not explain why the Daily Kos has leaned in so hard. Fifty million dollars have been poured into the race, easily making it the most expensive Congressional race in human history. As Roll Call reports:
“The parties’ congressional arms have led the scorched-earth battle, each dropping roughly $5 million in the district since the primary. Nearly all that money went to attacking the opposing candidate.”
Not since Falcons-Patriots has a clash meant nothing and everything at the same time. By every metric, Ossoff-Handel is a big deal. The scrap is lit up in neon for three reasons.
First: that there is a contest at all is remarkable. The Sixth is a red guarantee. It is a Republican canton. It was gerrymandered that way. Charles Bethe of the New Yorker noted that over the last 30 years, “the district has been represented by Newt Gingrich, current Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson, and Tom Price, the new Secretary of Health and Human Services.” In other words, the Sixth has leaned solid right since Carter. Price’s resignation led to the current contest.
The District comprises the north suburbs of Atlanta, including Dunwoody, north Fulton, and eastern Cobb. About 700,000 people live in the Sixth, and 521,000 of them are registered voters. Sixty-one percent of registered Sixth voters are white, which is five percentage points over the state average. A quarter are millennials, 40 percent are boomers. Average income, 72 grand.
Garrett Martin, an editor for this magazine, is an expert on the Sixth. “I’ve lived in what is currently the sixth for 18 of the last 28 years,” he told me. “The area I grew up in and currently live in is a fairly affluent suburb with the best public school system in the state.” Alan Ball is also from there, and “supposedly he based the suburb in American Beauty off of East Cobb—all strip malls and subdivisions built between the early 1970s and today, with houses getting bigger and plots of land getting smaller the more recent the subdivision.”
“Politically the 6th has always been conservative,” Martin explained. “In East Cobb (which includes parts of Marietta and Roswell) there’s a large percentage of people from outside the state who settle here when they move to work at Atlanta-based companies. ... When I was in high school it felt like business-oriented Reagan Republicans—they weren’t necessarily conservative on social issues and would just vote for whoever would promise to cut taxes the most. Throughout the ‘90s and especially into the ‘00s the evangelical movement seemed to really take hold and now there’s a pretty strong social element to conservatism in the area now, too.”
Not everybody there is a Republican, he said, but it’s a politically safe GOP district. Congressional campaigns in the Sixth are typically muted affairs. Nobody really challenged Price. But there’s a feeling that times have changed.
Which leads to the second reason: after November, the #Resistance has been successful in direct action; less so in electoral politics. The movement is desperate to break the Trump fever; they hunger for a victory. Hence the Sixth. Winning North Atlanta would be a devastating go-to-hell to the GOP, so it’s not hard to see the draw. The suburbs here have become Little Round Top in Gettysburg: a spot everybody’s willing to die on, just to prove a point.
Martin described possible evidence for a change. Back in 2014, the hopeful (and failed) campaigns of Democrats Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn had not garnered much attention in the Sixth: “The fact that two more significant races with higher-profile Democrats failed to gain much traction in the 6th shows how much more politically driven people are today. This time signs are everywhere, and in my area, it seems largely 50-50 between Ossoff and Handel.”
Which leads us to the third reason: the belief in the councils of power is that if the Sixth can be turned—the invincible, right-wing Sixth—that proves that bellwether has truly shifted. It would be the first sign of a groundswell. The gigantic marches, the wild outcries, the public revulsion against Trump: each of these suggest that the President’s support is an empty paper bag. The Sixth victory would prove it, provide concrete evidence. The Gondor beacon would be lit. Beltway people, who are deaf to everything outside of the city, will finally hear the knock on the door. Even the President would be forced to listen. A Democratic victory in North Atlanta means an oh-shit moment for the Grand Old Party.
The most recent polls show the race as a tie. But 2016, besides being the Fall of Man, was also not a prime era for the statistical class, so who knows?
“If I had to bet, Handel will win,” said Martin, “Even with the polls, with Trump’s unpopularity, with Clinton’s surprisingly good performance in the election last year, it’s unthinkable to me for a Democrat to win this seat.”
“If Handel wins,” Martin said, “it would show that the evangelical is still powerful here and that the business-first Republicans are still willing to deal with Trump policies and baggage if it means they can get their agenda passed. I’m sure there’ll be a number of people voting for Handel tomorrow who won’t admit it publicly.”
Nobody needs to be reminded what’s on the table here. A win would be a slap against the President and his unspeakable agenda. The Democrats are hungry for flesh, with all the blood-rage of a javelina, the savage unkillable boar of wild Texas. Ossoff is the chance for the Hillary wing of the party to rise from its moldering November grave and capture its lost glories.
What can be said of Ossoff himself?
His New Yorker profile contains several anecdotes about him, probably designed to make him look human and relatable, but the effect is of aggravating dorkishness:
“I was sort of an amateur essayist,” Ossoff told me. “Politically inspired by the second Iraq war,” which he opposed. “He read The Economist, my God, in high school!” Paul Bianchi, Paideia’s headmaster, told me. Ossoff was also unafraid to challenge his elders. Bianchi recalls cancelling school due to snow one year. “And I got a short e-mail from Jon, about five minutes later. All it said was ‘Wuss.’ ”
But there is no choice: the Republican is a hundred times worse. Handel voted against Obamacare and the Paris Accord, and supports The Wall. She is a condensed cloud of the disembodied suburban ghoulishness which makes up modern conservatism. She’s failed every mission she’s undertaken, leaving a string of lessened and damaged organizations behind her. She is exactly the kind of barely-cognizant right-wing raver that the GOP is expert in electing.
Whatever I can say about Ossoff, Handel is a night-terror straight from the dreams of Sorkin: a reptile-brained extremist who has done everything in her power to make this country worse for ordinary people, on every level. Ossoff is the only path left. If you live in the Sixth, in the name of all that is holy, elect this insufferable lanyard to Congress.