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Politics

The One House Race That Could Predict the Next Election

The special election in Georgia's 6th congressional district could be very good for Democrats. Well, for some Democrats.

Tom Price made headlines when he became the secretary of health and human services this year, but now all eyes are on the House seat he left empty.

The special election in Georgia's 6th congressional district on April 18 is a rare case in which one race has repercussions for every national constituency -- whether you're a Trump supporter or a Sanders loyalist.

This election could help pundits to make sense of the disjointed voting patterns in the 2016 election. In many districts, voters were more enthusiastic for downballot Republican candidates than for Donald Trump. He carried the Georgia 6th by just 1.5 points, far shy of the 23-point margin for Mitt Romney in 2012. And yet last November, Tom Price carried the district by 23 points.

Democrats see that divide and think Trump will now drag down all Republican candidates. Republicans hope that Trump is an electoral aberration who will have little impact on other elected candidates from his party.

Of course this is just one election, to fill just one House seat. But its outcome for the Republican Party -- weak support like Trump garnered, or a rout like Price won -- could set a precedent for other districts in the 2018 midterm elections.

If the Republicans lose the district, that may not be a win for all Democrats. The leading Democratic contender is Jon Ossoff, a moderate who is counting on liberal votes and courting conservative support as well.

An Ossoff win would disrupt the ascendant left wing of the Democratic Party. That vocal faction -- led by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren -- advocates rallying support from the party's labor roots. The Ossoff approach is the opposite, much more Clinton-esque. That approach could turn purple districts blue.

Georgia's 6th congressional district is neither rural nor poorly educated. In fact, it's the most well-educated district in the country held by Republicans. A whopping 59.5 percent of residents over the age of 25 have a bachelor's degree. This is higher than in Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco district (56.6 percent) or in any congressional district in well-educated Massachusetts.

An Ossoff win would validate the strategy laid out by Nate Cohn of the New York Times and myself to focus on well-educated Sun Belt suburban districts that historically have leaned Republican. Those districts don't want to hear Sanders's socialist appeals. Ossoff's campaign ads have included messages about cutting wasteful spending and fixing Obamacare, and he has skipped the more emotional and divisive progressive talking points.

The most likely outcome for now is that Ossoff places in the top two in the April 18 special election, and then loses to a Republican challenger in a June 20 runoff election. But should Ossoff beat the odds, then both parties will know that their futures lie not in the Rust Belt, but in affluent suburbs.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Conor Sen at csen9@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Philip Gray at philipgray@bloomberg.net

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