Political observers are eager for a glimpse into the future of electoral politics during Donald Trump's presidency, but they're not going to get much clarity from suburban Atlanta on Tuesday.
That inconvenient truth comes courtesy of one glaring detail about the race for Georgia's sixth district -- it is the single most expensive House election in history. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, FEC records reveal at least $56.7 million has been spent on the election between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel, both of whom are gunning for the seat vacated by Tom Price who left the House to serve as Trump's Secretary of Health and Human Services earlier this year.
Here's the breakdown, per the Center for Responsive Politics:
Through May 31, [Ossoff] has received about $23.6 million, with almost 65 percent of those funds coming from donations of $200 or less. He raised an additional $400,000 in the first week of June, bringing his total to at least $24 million. Although Handel also saw a significant increase in donations after the primary, her total of $4.5 million through May 31, with 35 percent coming from small donors, is dwarfed by Ossoff's fundraising. Handel raised an additional $173,000 in the first two weeks of June.
That is unprecedented. According to the Center for Responsive Politics' analysis, it blows the next most expensive race, which cost $29.5 million in 2012, out of the water. With that level of spending, the circumstances in this election are unusual enough that we need to be cautious in our assessments.
As I noted after the first round of voting in April, "backing like that will not be replicated for most, if any, Democrats in 2018. No matter how unpopular Trump is by 2018, Democratic candidates in competitive districts will not enjoy the immense time, attention, and money Ossoff received."
Those looking for a bellwether should turn their attention to the race itself, not its results. How did the Handel campaign, and the party at large, seek to court conservatives disillusioned by Trump's rise? What seemed to resonate? What did Democrats see in Ossoff? Whether or not he wins, that the young candidate was able to haul in so much cash reflects heightened energy from the party's base. Much of what this election has to say about the future is already available to analysts.
Sure, the seat has been held by Republicans for decades. Democrats drew it in the early 1990s specifically to pack in Republican voters. But no matter who is celebrating on Tuesday, the election's ability to function as a bellwether is muddled by the millions of dollars and months of attention both candidates, but especially Ossoff, have received.
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.