If you stayed up to watch last night's results in the special election for Georgia's 6th Congressional District, you were up late - the final votes weren't tallied until after midnight. The leading Democrat, Jon Ossoff, ended the night with 48.1% of the vote.
He earned the most votes in the crowded field, but it was still technically a loss for Ossoff, who was hoping to hit the 50% threshold required to avoid a run-off against a Republican. Moreover, pundits claim that Georgia's 6th district is the kind of place Democrats need to win if they have any hope of retaking the House in 2018.
It's not over yet. There will now be a runoff election between Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel in June, and the outcome is not certain. But if you're looking for 2018 tea leaves from last night's results to read, you can find both good news for Republicans, and some bad.
As a former staffer who worked on House races for the NRCC in 2014, here are my few takeaways.
Some good news: despite nearly every ideal advantage, the Democrat still didn't win a majority of the vote.
On paper, Jon Ossoff commanded a long line of advantages that any campaign manager would love to have, including a fundraising advantage and a lackluster approval rating for the president:
- He raised an astounding $8.3 million, which was four times more than the next closest candidate.
- He benefited from earned media coverage of his candidacy and celebrity endorsements.
- He was running against a divided field of several Republican candidates who spent millions nuking each other.
- President Trump's approval rating in the district was just at 49% according to a final poll.
- He was not running against an incumbent.
These are all variables that not every Democrat running in the 2018 midterms will be able to replicate. Ossoff had them, and he still wasn't able to win more than 50% of the vote. That's not an encouraging sign for Democrats assuming these types of districts will be easy to flip.
Some more good news: Republicans are still energized.
Pundits and analysts tracking the race fell victim to a trend that played out similarly in last week's special election in Kansas: everyone is shocked by the Democratic intensity of the early vote, only to watch the Republican intensity of the election-day vote winnow the Democrats' lead down to a disappointing finish. You can see how the night progressed in the tweets below.
What does this mean? It appears that the same Trump voters who propelled him to a narrow victory in this district last November aren't hibernating - at least not yet. Enthusiastic Democrats turned out big for the early vote, and enthusiastic Republicans turned out big to vote on election day.
This is also particularly striking considering that multiple media outlets have tried pushing a narrative that Trump supporters are disillusioned or regretting their decision. At least in Georgia, those reports seem greatly exaggerated.
I'm not sure how relevant this metric will be 18 months from now when the midterms are in full swing, but for now at least the Trump voters in these districts are still engaged and ready to fight.
But here's the bad news: the results show that Democrats can make these types of districts competitive.
Democrats are banking their hopes that they can make enough districts like Georgia's 6th - suburban districts that are traditionally Republican but only narrowly voted for Trump - competitive to claw their way back to a House majority in 2018. Although Ossoff failed to hit 50%, it was still too close of a call for Republicans to dismiss that possibility right now. (And remember: he might still win the runoff.)
Democrats will almost certainly expand their target list as a result of last night's results. Armed with a blueprint of what might work, they'll have an easier time recruiting candidates and raising money for races that would otherwise have been written off as fools' errands.
But, there is a silver lining for Republicans in there as well. As a result of a last night, they've been given a fair and early warning that these types of districts might be in play - and when it comes to House races, ignorance and complacency are toxic.