Tuesday was a late night for political junkies, and residents of Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, who were voting to decide on a new member of Congress. CNN called the race just after midnight. There will be a June runoff between Democrat Jon Ossoff – who won just under 50 percent of the vote – and Republican Karen Handel. The special election had pitted Ossoff against 11 Republicans.
Many saw this seat – a conservative stronghold vacated by now-Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price – as a bellwether for 2018, and the race had observers wondering what other congressional contests have the potential to up-end, or at least jostle, the status quo.
Elizabeth Simas, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Houston says the runoff in Georgia was a predictable outcome.
“I would have been more surprised it it hadn’t gone to a runoff, with that many candidates,” Simas says.
In Texas, at least one congressional district – the 7th, in the Houston suburbs – has similarities to the 6th in Georgia. Republican John Culberson holds that seat. Both districts include many affluent, educated residents. They each supported Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election, with nearly identical margins.
Simas says there are also some differences between the two districts.
“The racial demographics are a little bit different, and actually some of the income demographics,” she says. “But looking politically, TX-7 and GA-6…[are] fairly similar on political demographics.”
In 2016, President Donald Trump barely won GA-6, while Hillary Clinton earned a narrow victory in TX-7. Simas says both Price and Culberson won their reelection campaigns easily.
Simas says Culberson’s district has more diversity than does GA-6, and that its affluence is noteworthy.
“Texas 7 is one of the wealthiest districts in the state of Texas, but it does have a little bit more racial diversity,” she says. ”There’s a Democratic enclave, and a higher Hispanic population,, when comparing it…to Georgia.”
Simas says members of Congress from districts like Culberson’s have some work to do, even if it’s too early for them to be worried.
“I don’t know if it’s time yet to get scared,” Simas says. “But if I were Culberson, I would be doing what I can for my district. I would be fundraising like crazy, and I’d be building up my network to make sure that when the time comes, my people are going to be mobilized to go out and vote. Because I think mobilization is going to be the biggest story that comes out of this special election.”
Ossoff’s odds of winning in Georgia are longer, now that he faces a single Republican opponent in the runoff. But if he pulls it off, Simas says, success could buoy other Democrats.
“Going forward, if Democrats see success in Georgia, that could energize and mobilize more Democrats elsewhere,” she says. “And I think that’s the potential to have implications for 2018 – if people get mobilized and get excited. “
Written by Shelly Brisbin.