Election 2020

5 Take-Aways From Karen Handel's Victory Over Jon Ossoff

Republican candidate for Georgia's 6th District Congressional seat Karen Handel celebrates with her husband Steve as she declares victory June 20, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel prevailed in the Georgia 6th runoff election Tuesday evening over Democrat golden boy Jon Ossoff. While the margin might have been closer than Republicans would like, the GOP still held onto a seat and elected the first Republican woman to represent Georgia in Congress.

Here are five major take-aways from the Georgia 6 runoff election.

1. Money doesn’t win elections.

As if the 2016 presidential primaries and general election were not enough, the Georgia 6 special election underscored that money does not win elections. This special election was the most expensive House election in U.S. history, and the candidate who spent the most lost.

Ossoff’s campaign raised and spent $24 million, while Handel’s campaign only raised and spent $4.5 million. Handel did receive more support from outside groups ($18.2 million supporting her or attacking Ossoff) than Ossoff did (just under $8 million supporting him or attacking Handel). But Ossoff still received $10 million more in support than Handel.

Ironically, Ossoff’s huge war chest might have hurt him. In the last two months, the Democrat reported receiving nine times more donations from California than from Georgia. In the nine counties of the San Francisco Bay Area alone, Ossoff reported receiving 3,063 donations, nearly four times the Georgia total of 808 gifts. Republicans hit him on that, while Democrats focused on Handel’s support from “dark money.”

In the presidential election, Hillary Clinton outspent Donald Trump by a factor of 2-to-1, pro-Clinton ads outnumbered pro-Trump ads 3-to-1, “dark money” spending for Clinton beat Trump by 3-to-1, and Clinton backers ran 3 times as many ads in battleground states. The three biggest super PACs in that cycle backed a losing candidate.

Money does not win elections, votes do. “Campaign spending facilitates speech, and ads can only persuade voters who support the candidate’s message,” David Keating, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, told PJ Media. Campaign spending is most helpful in a primary, when name recognition is low and when one particular ad can effectively define a candidate.

In the case of Ossoff the extra ads arguably contributed to fatigue, which might have depressed his vote totals.

2. Trump agenda vindicated?

Democrats engineered this race, and bankrolled it to the tune of $30 million, in order to stall Trump’s agenda. Of all the special elections, the Left targeted Georgia 6 because Trump won by a small margin there and because they thought they had a perfect opportunity to win.

It was a golden opportunity — a young, inspiring Democrat received his party’s whole support in running against multiple Republicans, who split the Republican vote. He just barely came short of 50 percent plus one in the April 18 election, and Handel did not even receive 20 percent. Surely, Ossoff could pick up three more percent to clinch it, right?

In truth, the fundamentals still favored Handel. Yes, she had lost two state-wide Senate primaries in 2010 and 2014, but Georgia 6 had voted for Tom Price — now Trump’s secretary of Health and Human Services — by wide margins and for many years.

Democrats will emphasize that Handel won by a small margin, and that Republicans spent $20 million to hold on to a “safe” seat. After all, this is just one more seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the candidates focused on local issues, with Ossoff running as a moderate. The race doesn’t have to mean something besides its local impact.

But it was Democrats who tried to paint this race as a referendum on Trump, and the Republican won.

Democrats wanted to stonewall Trump’s agenda in Congress. Trump and Republicans in Congress should take this opportunity to full-throatedly support the conservative agenda. Health care, tax reform, VA reform, and other important causes could sure use the boost.

3. Nancy Pelosi is a perfect punching bag.

Most of the Handel ads attacking Ossoff tied the Democrat to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. It appears that that message worked.

“Every morning I wake up and I take a moment to be thankful that the Republican Party still has Nancy Pelosi because Nancy Pelosi is absolutely toxic,” Corry Bliss, the executive director of the Congressional Leadership Fund, which spent $6.2 million for Handel, told The Washington Times. “This race is a referendum on Nancy Pelosi and her liberal policy agenda, which is just fundamentally out of touch with a vast majority of Americans, as we saw in Montana.”

Pelosi has not been at the forefront of Congress for six years, but Americans still associate her with the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the botched effort on cap and trade, the Obama stimulus, and every other Democratic policy from the Obama years.

A June poll from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed that almost six in ten Georgia 6 voters held a negative view of Pelosi. She helped raise money for Ossoff, but did not campaign with the man, who served as an aid in Congress.

The association with Pelosi may not have been the issue that doomed Ossoff, but it likely contributed.

4. A last-minute sympathy vote?

The legacy media may have underemphasized James T. Hodgkinson’s shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise at a practice for the congressional baseball game, but Americans were paying attention. Not only was Hodgkinson a Bernie Sanders supporter, he also reportedly asked if it was Republicans or Democrats practicing before proceeding to shoot Scalise.

After an early outburst of support from the Left and the media, the story was buried — much more quickly than the Gabby Giffords shooting in 2011, which still dominated CNN after six days. Scalise remains in the hospital in serious condition.

As it turns out, Handel was a target of Hodgkinson’s ire as well. The shooter penned a rant on Facebook attacking Handel as a “Republican S***” who “wants people to work for slave wages.”

Handel’s response was dignified and firm. “I am aware that the suspect recently made vile comments about me on social media. It also appears that the suspect targeted members of Congress specifically because he disagreed with their views,” she noted.

“We should not allow our political differences to escalate to violent attacks,” the Republican candidate concluded. “We must all refuse to allow the politics of our country to be defined in this way. Now more than ever, we must unite as one nation under God. It is incumbent upon all of us to work together in a civil and productive way, even when we disagree.”

Handel and her neighbors were also targeted shortly after the shooting. On Thursday, she reported receiving “some suspicious packages” delivered to her house and those of her neighbors. The packages contained several threatening letters and a suspicious substance, and the police investigated a potential attack.

While it is unclear what pushed Handel over the edge on Election Day, she outperformed her standing in the polls. There are many possible explanations for this, but it is plausible that she might have received a sympathy vote after being targeted, and after responding with dignity.

When a super PAC launched an ad attacking Ossoff by tying him directly to the Scalise shooting, Handel’s spokeswoman denounced it as “disturbing and disgusting.”

Nevertheless, Brad Carver, the chair of the Republican Party in Georgia’s 11th congressional district, said he thinks “the shooting is going to win this election for us … because moderates and independents in this district are tired of left-wing extremism.”

5. Old-fashioned values?

Jon Ossoff represented more than just California dollars connected to a California representative, Nancy Pelosi. When it was discovered that Ossoff could not vote for himself on April 18, he defended himself in a distinctly modern fashion.

“I’ve been living with Alicia, my girlfriend of 12 years, down by Emory University where she’s a full-time medical student,” Ossoff told CNN “New Day” host Alisyn Camerota in April. “I want to support her in her career and do right by her.”

At this, the CNN anchor pertinently asked, “So when are you going to marry her?” Ossoff did later propose to his girlfriend, but the timing made it seem politically motivated.

This led Ben Shapiro to quip, “To lose a House seat and be forced into marriage in the process…that would be a rough year for Ossoff.”

In deep-red Georgia, the heart of the Bible Belt, Ossoff’s 12-year lack of commitment might have damaged him, and his politically timed proposal was probably the best thing he could have done under the circumstances, but that likely would not assuage the voters who were dumbstruck to hear of his long, ostensibly uncommitted, relationship.

It also likely did not help that Ossoff lived outside the district he was trying to represent, even though he did grow up there.

Whatever the final issue that pushed Handel over the edge, the Democrats are out with five consecutive losses in 2017 special elections. In truth, this should not be a surprise — the special elections are being held for Republicans nominated by Trump for higher positions. But even so, the victory feels good for the Right.