Republicans are in big trouble in suburbia, and may face a tough battle to keep control of Congress in 2018. Even though its’ candidate won the June 20 special election for the open House Seat in the Sixth District of Georgia; election results indicate a host of troubles for the GOP in some traditional strongholds.
A little over eight months ago U.S. Representative Dr. Tom Price (R) coasted to victory in the Sixth with 61.7% of the vote on November 8, 2016, Ballotpedia reported. Democrat Rodney Strooksbury picked up just 38.3% of the vote in the same election.
On June 20, 2017, Republican Karen Handel received 51.9% of the vote to Democrat Jon Ossoff’s 48.1%. The problem for Republicans is clear; they lost 9.8%; almost 10%, of their support after just eight months of Trump. What happens in November 2018 after almost a year and a half of the Donald in the White House?
To make matters worse it was a lousy Democratic candidate; an almost unknown Congressional staffer who did not even live in the district, that nearly pulled off this upset. The GOP ended up spending tens of millions of dollars and calling in big guns; like Trump to turn back his challenge. What happens in 2018 if Handel faces a serious Democratic challenge from a decent candidate?
What we can learn from the June 20 Special Elections for Congress
- Upscale suburbia is no longer safe territory for Republicans. Trump only carried the Sixth District; which is in the Atlanta suburbs by 1.5%. Ossoff actually won a slight majority in the first runoff on April 18 with 48.1% of the vote.
- Changing demographics are eating into the Republican base in suburban areas. The Sixth District used to be safe GOP territory; it elected former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for 20 straight years from 1979 to 1999. Today the district is 11.8% Hispanic and 9.3% African American, which partially explains Ossoff’s success.
- Republicans are not picking up votes from growing segments of the population including nonwhites, younger women and young professionals. They won on June 20, only by turning out the base; which is older and slowly dying off, Kennesaw State University political science department chair Kerwin Swint told the Huffington Post.
- The South may no longer be safe territory for Republicans. Another special election for a House Seat in a supposedly “Safe Republican” District; the Fifth in South Carolina; was also surprisingly close. Republican Ralph Norman won the June 20, 2017, vote there by 51.1% to Democrat Archie Parnell’s 47.9%. On November 8, 2016, U.S. Representative Mick Mulvaney (R) won reelection by 59.2% and Democrat Fran Peterson only picked up 38.7% of the vote, Ballotpedia reported. That’s right Democrats were able to increase their percentage of the vote in two Southern districts by over 9%.
- A large percentage of Trump supporters are willing to vote Democratic. Trump carried South Carolina’s Fifth District by 18.5% in November, The Huffington Post reported, yet Norman’s margin was 3.2% just eight months later. That indicates Republicans’ problems go much deeper than Trump. A potential pitfall for the GOP is that many Trump supporters might not trust the party establishment or Congressional Republicans. Even ones like Norman that claim to support the “Trump agenda.”
- The cost of Congressional elections is spinning out of control. Republicans and Democrats spent $51.9 million on the Sixth District race in Georgia, making it the most expensive House contest ever. Can either party afford to spend that much on several dozen races in 2018? Will contributors be willing to fund such costly campaigns? Both parties need to rethink their campaign tactics and strategies. A good start would be to consider adopting the cheaper newer methods; like the targeted digital advertising and data-driven marketing, used by Trump and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) in 2016.
- Republicans face a tough battle to keep control of the House in 2018. Democrats are doing very well in some of their strongholds including affluent while suburbia, rural areas in the West; special House elections in Kansas and Montana were also surprisingly close, and even parts of the South.
- Republicans are going to have to find ways to grow their base. The GOP is hanging on in districts like Georgia’s Sixth and South Carolina’s Fifth only because it can mobilize older, white voters; mostly Baby Boomers (52 to 72 year olds) and the Silent Generation (73 to 92 year olds). A large percentage of those people will die off over the next few years, that death-toll might be enough to tip the balance in those districts. The GOP needs to replace those voters and fast.
- The Republicans might have to write off parts of the South at some point just as they have written off California. Back in the 1970s, California was a GOP stronghold; producing Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. Today it is so blue that Trump barely bothered to campaign there. The Sixth Districts results indicate that process is well under way in Georgia. Georgia; and possibly the Carolinas, might soon follow Colorado and Virginia in making the Red to Blue transition.
Republicans should not be celebrating their “wins” in the Sixth District of Georgia; and the Fifth in South Carolina or listening to pundits praising their Pyric Victories. Instead they need to ask what is going wrong, and take steps to correct it – if they don’t want to lose those districts in 2018.