But the outcome of the race won’t be enough on its own to draw sweeping conclusions about how the Democratic Party will fare in the Trump era. And individual special elections for congressional seats aren’t necessarily predictive of what will happen in upcoming midterm elections.
“If Ossoff wins, people will say the GOP is doomed. If he loses, people will say the Democrats are terribly disorganized, and they can’t win in 2018. Neither of those things are true,” Brandon Finnigan, the director of the non-partisan election site Decision Desk HQ, said in an interview.
Still, the Georgia race may provide some clues as to how Democrats will perform in the midterms when viewed alongside the outcome of other special elections.
Democrats lost a Kansas special election race on Tuesday, but the results were far better for the party than political observers would have predicted even weeks ago. Republican Ron Estes won only by a relatively narrow seven point margin, despite the fact that Trump won the district by 27 points in November.
Taken together, the results of these elections, including upcoming Montana and South Carolina special elections, could shed light on the extent to which grassroots liberal activism will translate into election wins. “Paying attention to the margins in all these elections can help show whether Democrats are making inroads into conservative districts,” Finnigan said.
If Democrats seem to be gaining ground, that will inevitably provoke a counter-reaction. Dooley predicted that all the attention from Democrats to the sixth district race in Georgia would backfire. “The fact that there’s been all this publicity, I think that will succeed in driving Republicans to turn out in big numbers,” she said, “So it’s a double-edged sword.”
Michael Altman, a Republican voter living in Georgia who has been following the race closely, sounded even more confident that Ossoff won’t win. “He doesn’t have a chance in hell, it’s just not going to happen,” he said. He conceded though that this race feels different from past congressional district elections.
“There’s more signs, and more advertisements, than I’ve ever seen for a Democrat running around here,” he said. But Altman doesn’t believe that’s proof the political tide is turning in the district. He thinks it’s just an indication that national Democrats are desperate for a win. “I don’t think he has that much grassroots support in the district,” he said, adding: “I think it’s just smoke and mirrors.”
If Ossoff fails to win more than 50 percent of the vote next Tuesday the race will advance to a runoff between the two candidates with the most votes. Republicans might coalesce around a single candidate if that were to happen, likely dooming chances for the Democrat.
In the event of a defeat, Georgia progressives say that they won’t simply give up. “I’m really planning on making this a long-term thing,” Amy Nosek, the founder of one Georgia Indivisible group, said in an interview. “We might lose some people along the way, but I do think we’ve grown a movement that won’t go away anytime soon.”
That doesn’t mean there won’t be serious disappointment if the party falls short in the upcoming election.
“As far as Ossoff’s campaign is concerned, victory to me is seeing him sworn into Congress,” Carlos Moreno, one of the founders of a different Georgia-based Indivisible group, said. “I’m sorry, but in politics, second place is losing.”