The “Jon Ossoff effect” is a phrase being thrown around recently in Georgia political circles.
Ossoff has captured the attention of the nation by running competitively in Georgia’s ruby red 6th Congressional District. The rookie Democrat was able to energize liberal voters to go to the polls in higher numbers, and Nate Cohn of The New York Times concluded that one in five Republicans in the election voted for him. He almost won the district altogether with a 48 percent win during the general election. A runoff between Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel will take place on June 20.
Local Republicans are also worried Ossoff’s influence may trickle down ballot. Georgia state Sen. Judson Hill vacated his seat during his unsuccessful bid for the 6th Congressional District. He occupied Senate District 32 – a reliably conservative area representing east Cobb County and Sandy Springs.
Altogether, five Republicans and three Democrats ran in the special state senate election to replace Hill. It took place the same day as voters went to the polls in the 6th District. And like the congressional election, no candidate was able to forgo a runoff by surpassing the 50 percent mark.
Democrat attorney Christine Triebsch earned roughly 24 percent of the vote and Republican Kay Kirkpatrick, an orthopedic surgeon, was not far behind with 21 percent – making the two finalists for a runoff election.
Common sense would dictate that this will be an easy campaign for Kirkpatrick. Republican voter turnout was much higher than that of Democrats. This state senate runoff will not be taking place during the congressional runoff on June 20, but will be held on May 16 – forgoing huge publicity. The lower turnout will likely be a boon to Republicans.
One prominent Republican in Georgia, however, is warning voters in Senate District 32 not to feel complacent. State Sen. John Kennedy had this to say about the upcoming local election: “While many think that this is a dark red Republican territory, the data from the election is disturbing considering the number of Democrats that came out and voted, partly because of the John Ossoff effect. However, there is concern in her [Kirkpatrick’s] camp that those same forces will reappear in the May 16 run-off as a prelude and run up to the John Ossoff run-off…”
It’s understandable for a Georgia Republican to stay cautious (especially given Ossoff’s surprising strength in the region), but a quick look at the results of the general election in Senate District 32 shows state Sen. Kennedy may be worrying just a little too much.
The combined Republican vote total on April 18 was about 60 percent. Total Democrat turnout stood roughly at 40 percent. Although former state Sen. Hill hasn’t been challenged in a general election since 2008, you can look at his performance that year to Democrat Chris Cameron – he defeated him 66 percent to 34 percent. These results can be somewhat comparable to the recent special election, especially when you consider that the 2008 contest was between a longtime incumbent and a no-name challenger and the election last month was between political equals.
The state senate runoff taking place well before the congressional runoff is too big a factor to ignore. The race between Ossoff and Handel has flooded the airwaves and drawn in millions of dollars – Senate District 32 will mostly avoid all the ruckus of that fight. This will avoid energizing liberals in the district.
There are roughly 178,000 people living in this local district. 58,635 voters participated in the general election. This is a voter participation rate lower than 34 percent. Assuming a drop in voter turnout for a primary, the participation rate will be unquestionably low.
There are too many factors in this race pointing to a regular, boring election come May 16.
Campaign Daily Rating: Safe Republican