(CNN)The Georgia special election was the Democrats’ best chance so far this year to flip a House seat and score a victory for the anti-Trump resistance. Jon Ossoff’s defeat is a major blow to well-funded liberal momentum and activism, to which GOP voters in the South responded, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
While the narrow GOP victory in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District — a historically solid red district, and my home district — can be viewed as a subtle rebuke of President Donald Trump, a win is a win. Karen Handel proved that hard work pays off and voters can’t be bought.
More than $50 million was spent in the special election to replace Republican Tom Price, who resigned earlier this year to become Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the race had become a proxy for the national political climate and a test of GOP might in the early months of the Trump presidency. Voters were inundated with phone calls and television ads like never before.
CNN projects: Karen Handel wins
Growing up in suburban Atlanta as a sports/political-news junkie, I remember “Hammerin'” Hank Aaron hitting number 715 in 1974, Newt Gingrich being sworn in as Congressman in 1979, and CNN launching the first 24-hour news channel in 1980. All three events were historical home runs. But politically speaking, Gingrich blazed a GOP trail in the 6th district that will take a lot more than the Democrat resistance to extinguish.
At the presidential level, 6th district voters in Georgia have voted solidly Republican for years. George W. Bush won the district by more than 40 points, McCain by 25, Romney by 23. The drop came last year; President Trump barely won, beating Hillary Clinton by just one point.
This is when the Democrats began to see their opening to capture a GOP House seat. They were hoping Ossoff would be their equivalent of Scott Brown of Massachusetts (Brown, a Republican, was a relative unknown who captured the seat of the late Ted Kennedy in 2009).
Georgia’s 6th district is the most solid GOP area of the state. On average, voters have a higher education and income level. They are high-information voters who were turned off by Trump’s tone, and therefore tuned in to the message of candidates seeking to represent them in Washington.
But in the GOP primary, Handel made it clear that she is a conservative leader who will be a check and balance, not a rubber stamp, on the Trump administration. Given Trump’s narrow victory, Handel’s gambit was wise.
She campaigned on lowering taxes, repealing and replacing Obamacare and strengthening national security.
Ossoff ran a smart campaign and understood the need to appear as a moderate. The reality is he is a stock-in-trade liberal. He supported mandatory minimum wage, funding for Planned Parenthood and believes climate change will lead to a worldwide catastrophe. These policies don’t resonate with many 6th district voters.
In addition to that, Ossoff did not live in the district and received 95% of his campaign money from outside the district.
Handel lives in the district and in the end, voters likely respected her service as Georgia’s Secretary of State and her term on the Fulton County Board of Commissioners.