Whatever happens won’t meaningfully change the balance of power in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. But Democrats may need to win districts like Georgia’s sixth congressional—an affluent, well-educated, suburban area that Trump only narrowly won—for the party to take control of Congress in the 2018 midterm elections. As a result, a Democratic defeat in June would come as a relief to Republicans, and prove demoralizing to Democrats, though political experts caution that the results of a single special election should not be viewed as a bellwether.
The election has drawn a flurry of national attention with media outlets billing the matchup as the first major test of whether liberal backlash to Trump will translate into votes in parts of the country that aren’t safely Democratic. The Ossoff campaign raised a record $8.3 million as Democrats nationwide poured money into the race, while GOP outside groups have spent millions of their own in an effort to hang on to the seat.
Even Trump has kept tabs on the race, taking to Twitter to say that Ossoff would be “a disaster in Congress.” Early Wednesday morning, the president predicted a runoff would deliver a victory for Republicans. “Glad to be of help!,” he tweeted.
While Ossoff did not lock up the race on Tuesday, he nevertheless performed quite well in a district that has been held by Republicans since the 1970s. At 48 percent, his share of the vote exceeded what Hillary Clinton won in the district when she received 46.8 percent of the vote in November.
Taken with the results of other recent special elections, that outcome indicates that Democrats are energized across the country, and motivated to get out and vote, even in conservative states and districts.
Individual special elections, like the one in Georgia, don’t have a consistent track record of predicting the outcome of midterm elections on their own, but patterns can emerge across multiple races that provide insight into the current political climate.
Earlier this month, Democrats lost a special election in Kansas, which has an unpopular Republican governor, but their candidate significantly outperformed Clinton’s margin in the district in November. Democratic candidates have also performed better than Clinton in several special elections for state legislative seats since the presidential election.
“If this trend continues throughout 2017 as the data accumulate, this could be suggestive of broader GOP problems and intensified Democratic enthusiasm,” Kyle Kondik, an election analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, wrote in an assessment of the Georgia special election ahead of Tuesday’s results.
For now, however, it’s too early to know how widespread, or strong, Democratic enthusiasm may be, and how that might impact the 2018 midterms.