Polls on the 6th congressional district race have been within the margin of error for a month now, more or less. Most show Jon Ossoff holding a small lead over Karen Handel. By my understanding of statistical math, that means Ossoff is probably ahead, perhaps by 2500 to 5000 votes on 230,000 to 250,000 cast.
But that projection depends mightily on turnout. And symbolically at least, turnout tomorrow appears to run through Pleasantdale Road.
Just north of Tucker and east of Doraville, rows of low-rent apartment complexes dominate the Pleasantdale Road district. For organizers in the neighborhoods just outside of the old Silverbacks’ stadium, this is usually a political wasteland. Voters there often don’t identify with the community. They may have only recently moved to the area, or the state … or the country … and might not be planning to stick around.
Much has been made of the 6th district’s demographics, a top-ten district for college attainment and relatively high income.
Pleasantdale is where the people who work for them live.
The average household income in Pleasantdale is about $32,000 a year. Fewer than 30 percent of residents have a college degree — still higher than the state average, but lower than the district’s 56 percent. About 21 percent have no high school diploma, which probably correlates with the immigration figures; almost four in ten residents are foreign born, mostly from Mexico and Central America.
About 80 percent of voters in DeKalb County’s Pleasantdale Road precinct voted for Ossoff on April 18th. But turnout of the precinct’s 3516 registered voters was abysmal relative to the district — 24 percent there, compared to 45 percent overall.
Bump that precinct turnout figure to something like the district average, and Ossoff nets 1000 votes.
The Ossoff campaign has raised something like $15 million in direct contributions for advertising and organizing. That’s about $120 for every Ossoff vote turned out. To a degree, we’re testing the political limits of what can be accomplished with money.
But for all the talk about how the money in this race distorts things, I think it’s important to understand that the people on the ground knocking on doors and handing out flyers are fairly local. The grassroots activism of the moment is being driven by people who live here, mostly by middle-class, middle-aged white women from suburban Atlanta.
The insanity of the race means that voters who are universally ignored because of the intensity of manpower necessary to reach them have suddenly become the most important people in America.
The easy votes have been accounted for. Never mind the TV, the ads, and social media, at least three-quarters of households have been contacted directly by a campaign worker, a human being at the door, ready to argue their case on behalf of a candidate.
I recognize that some Trump supporters would like very much to tie Democratic rhetoric to political violence. A repugnant ad over the weekend — denounced by both campaigns — did just that, and speaks to Republican desperation.
So I measure this metaphor carefully. Republicans voted for political war in November. War we shall have. This is what war looks like.
Pleasantdale Road filled up over the weekend with soccer moms from Tucker and Sandy Springs, for whom this has been a new experience in more ways than one.
Volunteers made a special point over the weekend to flood the precinct. They targeted specific gated complexes and particular intersections, preparing voter information in English and Spanish. A rally in Pleasantdale Park drew Ossoff, along with Rep. John Lewis, celebrating Juneteenth. They’re planning more for Election Day, emphasizing rides to the polls. In a precinct where car ownership might be iffy, that’s a significant value.
“It’s all going to come down to turnout,” Ossoff said. “It’s not about me. It’s not about political party. It’s about the real human consequences of elections. Folks across the district, folks across the state, folks across the country, there are those who have lost faith. All of us … have a chance to restore that faith.”
Ossoff doesn’t talk about Trump on the campaign trail all that much, but it provides context to the extraordinary campaign.
Because this shouldn’t be close.
I first met Jon in January, a few days into his run, at a “resistance” rally in Clarkston. I like Jon. He seems to me like someone who has seen absolutely every episode of the West Wing, a classic wonk in an age that celebrates ignorance. But I don’t think he’s a superhuman candidate.
He entered with no name recognition, never having held public office. He’s plainly smart and good looking and knows governance 10 times better than most of the people this state sends to Washington — looking at you, Jody Hice — but he lives outside of the district and is tied to a liberal congressman that people in this relatively conservative district dislike. That should have been the end of it in an R+8 district, even with the early, stupid “Jon Solo” backfire.
Is Ossoff a liberal Democrat, or a moderate? I think it’s almost entirely beside the point as long as he’s honest, relatively intelligent and not completely insane.
He’s a Democrat. And, perhaps, enough people are fed up with Republicans for that to be the only thing that really matters.
Republicans should contemplate the possibility that the damage Trump has done to Republicans, as a brand, turned many people derided as RINOs out of the party entirely. Many of those people will increasingly vote for Democrats, unable to stomach complicity with alt-right racism, high level corruption and the damage to the republic being done by Republicans. This election is what that may look like.
The response from Handel’s campaign hasn’t been a positive message extolling the virtues of conservative leadership, because facts on the ground in Washington undermine that argument every day. Instead, she’s screaming the name Nancy Pelosi over and over again, as loudly as possible. The idea that the House minority leader matters to voters here is the sort of logic that only a Washington lobbyist would think is compelling.
By several accounts, Congressional Republicans are likely to panic if they lose this seat. There will be the after-action rationalizations, of course. How it’s a fluke. How Democrats couldn’t possibly come up with this kind of money or enthusiasm in other seats in 2018. How the stupid “Jon Solo” ad by out-of-state PAC money nationalized the race. The weakness of Handel — a multi-race loser — contributing to the loss. How the district itself is unusual because it had the largest fall off in Trump support. On and on.
They’re still going to panic.
And if that means Trump gets impeached that much faster, then it matters. And everyone knows it.
I hear regularly that protest is somehow empty whining, that real change should come at the ballot box and that everything else is crybaby nonsense. Well … here’s the test.
Democrats raised at least $30 million for this seat, when including PAC spending. Democrats need to contest another 70 or so in the same way to take the House next year. That’s $2.1 billion.
I think they’ll raise it.
War costs money, and defeat looks an awful lot like the end of the republic. Even if they match the commitment, Republicans are still probably going to lose because the party in charge almost always loses midterms. If Republicans have anything less than that level of commitment, they’re certain to lose, and they should.