The dust is still settling from yesterday’s special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District to replace outgoing Rep. Tom Price, who was recently named President Trump’s secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). There’s no question both this race and the subsequent runoff on June 20 of this year will serve as an early report card on the Trump administration to date. To many in the White House, that hardly seems fair. After all, how much can a president do after eight years of mess created by the Democrats?
If this were a college course, we wouldn’t even be at the end of a semester. Yet here we are — and make no mistake — this will be an early sign of how voters think Trump is doing.
The stakes are high, even if the candidates are struggling to find a vision and a message for voters. By all accounts, the Democrat, Jon Ossoff, is no Kennedy-in-grooming. His boyish looks cause many party faithful to long for a different choice. But this isn’t about Jon Ossoff at all. And it’s certainly not about his credentials. This is pure smash-mouth politics — wheree national machines roll in to these sleepy, southern suburban counties to set up shop and guarantee this election is worth watching nationwide.
For Republicans, the environment was target-rich, emptying the state party of any hope of capturing the win on Tuesday. Each candidate struggled to stand out. That virtually no one dropped out tells you more about themselves than their opponents. For months, both state and national Democrats didn’t know who to target. So a great deal of money has been spent (wasted) in trying to pick a frontrunner, in order to tear him or her down.
Now, former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel will carry the banner for the party. This is a runoff she can win. But the larger question is, what does it all signal for the president’s agenda?
This dynamic was pretty standard for an off-year special election. No matter how wide a margin the sitting president won (or lost) the district, the race would still be pitted as a referendum on his progress to date. Math has always been my strong-suit, but this is not a deeply red GOP district. Yes, Tom Price was popular in the district, but Trump won the state with just 51.3 percent of the votes. And in the three main counties in The Peach State's 6th Congressional District, he combined for just 30 percent voter support.
To prove the point, Ossoff nearly captured the seat; falling just short of the needed 50 percent to avoid a runoff. But let’s be fair — Ossoff built a major war chest of over $8 million and Handel struggled against an 18-person GOP field. Those odds would be tough even for Ronald Reagan.
Like many in Washington, D.C. I care more about what this race says nationally — if anything at all. Exit polling from, and I suspect again in June, paints an interesting picture.
If voters continue to feel the same frustration they did when they voted for Trump, that’s not a good sign — especially for a business-minded, transactional executive like the president. At the very least, they need to feel like he is trending in the right direction, and I’m not sure they can say that at this early stage, and certainly not with the recent election numbers.
Yet as I travel the country, I’m amazed at how resilient Trump's support is. Even if this administration’s policies are geared against the typical Trump voter in the short-term, data suggests they’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt — to see how that family fares in the long run. In politics, perception governs reality, and right now at least, the perception is "We have a guy in the White House who is looking out for us, even if he can’t get it all done in 100 days."
If Ossoff does win come summer, it will be for two reasons: voter turnout among the 18 to 25 age cohort who feel Ossoff represents their generation, and visceral reaction or general indifference toward Obamacare. By that I mean, the voters in the Georgia's 6th Congressional District will reconcile in their minds that no politician can fix the mess created by Obamacare, and they just want to move on. Any attempt to try and repeal the measure will have a negative impact; that’s not worth it to them for Trump to keep trying.
While it’s not in his nature, the president would be wise to wake up on June 21 and determine if voters think he's successfully shifting from campaign mode to governing.
Granted, the presidential election was unlike any other. Trump voters care more about change than anything else. But if there’s one area where President Trump could score easy political points with voters who are second-guessing their choice on Election Day, it’s in seeing a president who can lead them through the difficult times ahead.
North Korea, China, Russia, and Brexit are just a few examples where global leadership pays dividends in the homeland, especially when threats are as real as they are today.
Even if the president won’t be watching for that, we certainly will.
Armstrong Williams is the author of "Reawakening Virtues." He is a political commentator who writes a conservative newspaper column, hosts a nationally syndicated TV program called "The Right Side," and hosts a daily radio show on Sirius/XM Power 128 (6-7 p.m. and 5-6 a.m.) Monday through Friday. He also is owner of Howard Stirk Holdings Broadcast TV stations. Read more reports from Armstrong Williams — Click Here Now.
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