So that’s that: The Republican won in Georgia 6, and the Republican won in South Carolina 5. We’ll have more to say Wednesday on what the results portend, but that does it for our live blog coverage.
Before we go, though, I asked FiveThirtyEighters for their main takeaway(s) from the results tonight. Here’s what they had to say:
Harry: Democrats have to be disappointed by the final result in Georgia. I don’t think there’s any other way to put it. They didn’t want another moral victory. The “reluctant” Trump vote is still mostly with President Trump — at least in Georgia 6. Of course, I’ll say what I have always said. We look at all the special elections, and we average them together. The South Carolina 5 result was good for Democrats. We’ll have more special election results over the months to come. We’ll see where those land.
Nate: For me, this is sort of the maximally “well, actually…” outcome. By which I mean it’s liable to be pretty demoralizing for Democrats and lead to some pretty bad headlines. But … well, actually … if you’re using special elections as benchmarks for what might happen in 2018, Democrats’ overperformance in South Carolina 5 is as impressive as Republicans’ holding on in Georgia 6. To the extent that the results could matter for things like the health care vote, it’s a good night for Republicans. To the extent that we’re forecasting 2018, I’m really not so sure.
Clare: I think Georgia 6, that reluctant Trump district, really lined up with what our surveys have said about reluctant Trump voters — that they’re still with him/the Republican Party, if only tepidly. I also think that money and hyped national attention can have a distorting effect on a race.
Perry: My main takeaway is to wonder how all this will affect the political agenda. Nate wrote about how the Georgia race might affect the health care vote in the Senate. I’m curious to see how it affects other things happening in Washington as well. The media has gotten more aggressive, not only on the Russia investigation, but also by describing how Trump/Republicans are violating norms. CNN’s White House reporter, for example, was slamming the administration on Monday for not allowing press briefings to be on camera or even recorded on audio. The Washington Post had a big story highlighting the closed-door health care process and other moves made by Trump and congressional Republicans that limited transparency. Media coverage, in my experience, gets tougher when a politician or party has low approval ratings. Trump is still in a weak position. But it’s not clear that congressional Republicans are, particularly, after tonight. I think how the media, along with Democrats in Congress, perceive the Handel win is just as important as tonight’s results.
Dave: I think a lot of people are going to be interpreting this result as a disaster for Democrats. Here’s why I think it’s not: 1. Special elections are often lagging, not leading, indicators. In 2010, Democrats surprisingly (and convincingly) held on to a southwestern Pennsylvania seat that John McCain had carried just five months before losing their House majority. The reason? The voters who showed up were ancestrally Democratic — almost a mirror image of what we saw tonight. 2. Turnout in the Georgia 6 special election was much higher than it’s likely to be in most districts in November 2018. That’s good news for Democrats, because they saw a surprisingly strong result tonight in South Carolina 5, where turnout was abysmal. As a rule, Democrats are more fired up than Republicans right now. So the more both sides turn out, Republicans stand to gain.
The AP has called the race for Handel.
Among the questions I can already hear Democrats asking tomorrow: Why didn’t Ossoff take the fight to Trump in his ads? And why didn’t he take a sledgehammer to the AHCA? Why did he run such a bland campaign? But I think a better explanation might be: After over $30 million in pro-Ossoff/anti-Handel ads, there is such a thing as Ossoff fatigue.
CNN has called it for Handel.
That’s from a progressive activist. If Handel wins, I think we’re going to see the Bernie wing criticizing Ossoff’s not-as-populist campaign pretty strongly in the next few days.
Our friends at Decision Desk have called the race for Handel. We don’t make projections ourselves, but we have no reason to disagree. The margin is likely to tighten some, but very hard to think it will be enough for Ossoff to pull ahead.
Repeating myself from before a bit … but I see a lot of people focusing on the fact that Georgia 6 had a high turnout and South Carolina 5 had a low turnout. That’s an important difference between those districts. But another difference is that Georgia 6 went from being very Republican to nearly voting for Clinton, while South Carolina 5 was once competitive-ish but went very strongly for Trump. So the lesson may be that these special elections aren’t only about Trump. Traditional partisanship still matters as well.
I’m ready to stick a fork in it — and please note that this is my personal projection — Handel defeats Ossoff, Republicans breathe gigantic sigh of relief.
The question I have is whether there really was a late shift to Handel as the polls suggested or whether the polls were missing something all along. What’s interesting is that the polls underestimated Ossoff in round one and seem to have overestimated him in round two. Just goes to show, you shouldn’t try to predict polling misses.
BIG news. DeKalb County just reported its mail ballots, pretty much Ossoff’s last hope. There were 7,448 ballots, and he won 73 percent of them. But believe it or not, that’s just not good enough. Handel looks increasingly likely to prevail tonight.
To join the choir here — Handel is ahead by around 12,500 votes right now, and we expect that there are about 25,000 mail votes still left to count, along with various other election day votes. If the remaining election day votes are a wash — a big assumption — Ossoff would need to win the mail-ins 2-to-1. I suppose that’s not impossible, but it’s a steep hill to climb.
I dug into the election day vote totals a bit more, and it appears that Handel is approaching the point beyond which mail-in ballots wouldn’t be able to erase Ossoff’s deficit. But we just won’t know until we see more election day votes from DeKalb County.
As we wait for the vaunted mail vote, Handel has a lead of more than 6 points. That’s a large lead to overcome.
So … that Politico graphic is back, but with a note saying that “a previous version of the chart below included an incorrect calculation which reversed the vote margins for the candidates.” In other words, instead of running a few points behind where she needed to be, Handel is running a few points ahead instead. It’s also not clear if those calculations are counting mail-in votes. Sort of a mess all around, tbh.
“With that said, the effect on Democratic morale can’t be overlooked. … This decline in morale might be temporary, given that Trump does plenty to motivate the base, but it would come at an inopportune time as Democrats are seeking to gather momentum to block the GOP health care bill.” That’s from Nate’s take earlier today. I don’t think liberals will stop resisting Obamacare repeal. But if Handel hangs on, I wonder if Republicans will feel more confident in pushing forward this health care bill even though it’s very unpopular.
There are just four precincts left to report in South Carolina 5. Parnell looks on track to lose by just 3 points. Given that Clinton lost there by 19 points, it’s quite a turnaround. It’s in line with the average shift from the past presidential vote results we’ve seen in other special elections. It’s still a win for Republicans, however.
I’d note that Politico’s precinct-by-precinct comparisons, which had suggested that Ossoff was running ahead of what he needed to win the district, are no longer being displayed on their results page. I’m not sure what that means. These things can be hard to get right in real time.
We’ve deemed Georgia’s 5th District as a prime spot for what we like to call “reluctant Trump voters” — voters who went with the president in November despite not being very excited to cast their ballots. Handel seems to be up a little, and while it’s still early, if she wins by a narrow margin, this might just reflect the tepid support that these Trump-voting independents and Republicans still have for the president. Pairing with SurveyMonkey, we’ve surveyed these reluctant Trump voters and found that they’re still supporting the man in the White House. We’ll see.
Another thought — the polls were pretty consistent in showing movement toward Handel over the past week. Maybe that was news-driven (e.g., because of the Virginia shooting) or maybe it’s because Republican voters came home over the last few days amid a very high turnout. I’m just flagging that as something to consider when you’re assessing the results — the GOP seemed to have the stronger finishing kick.
Wow, the last few York County precincts — the final outstanding areas of South Carolina 5 — have been particularly strong for Parnell. At the moment, it looks like Parnell could keep Norman’s margin under 4 points, which would be a terrific (but, as Nate said, annoying) result for Democrats. It’s also legitimately possible that South Carolina’s result could wind up closer than Georgia’s, which would be astounding.
If we wind up with Handel winning by like 2 points and Norman winning by about 4 points, that’s by no means the worst outcome for Democrats. In fact, it’s a sort of par-for-the-course one, given expectations going in. But it’s just about the most annoying possible outcome for Democrats, closing the gap in a lot of places, but not winning anywhere yet.
Based on the way election day votes are coming in right now, Handel’s lead could be too big for pro-Ossoff mail ballots to overcome. At the beginning of the night, we anticipated that there could be roughly 25,000 mail-in ballots. But Handel’s lead is climbing into five-digit territory right now. Still, it’s too early to call the race.
So, it’s sort of silly to run a regression based on five data points. But if you do run a regression based on the special election results to date — including tonight’s — it turns out that a 50/50 blend of 2016 and 2012 presidential results is the best at predicting how special elections will turn out this year. In plain English: The Trump turnout patterns of 2016 aren’t necessarily the new normal in terms of what results will look like at the midterms and special elections. Instead, we’ve been sort of halfway in between the new normal and the old normal. So Georgia 6 hasn’t shifted Democratic quite as much as Trump’s performance implied, but neither has South Carolina 5 or Montana shifted toward Republican as much as you’d guess from Trump’s performance there.
The Associated Press has called South Carolina 5 for Republican Ralph Norman. Not a surprise, but a much closer race than the polls suggested.
In the last few minutes, Ossoff’s fortunes have taken a turn for the worse … just how much worse, it’s going to take a few minutes to assess.
I think a lot of us are confused because we’re unsure of how to read the vote that’s in so far. Will Ossoff do better or worse in precincts that haven’t fully reported? Well, as Nate noted, precincts that have fully reported show Ossoff running closer to Handel than the results as a whole. And when there is confusion, folks are rightly slow to project a winner. And that means a late night.
Harry, this is looking like a late night in Georgia 6?