One of the things we learned in Kansas' 4th Congressional District special election Tuesday is that Republicans are facing a very perilous political environment.
To be sure, Republican Ron Estes won the heavily Republican district that was up for grabs Tuesday. His party thus escaped any consequences for now. But it's never a good sign when an opponent is able to mobilize 70 percent of his voters in a special election without expending significant resources, and you can manage only 40 percent.
As I noted yesterday by way of a thought experiment, if you apply a similar turnout to all 435 House districts, Democrats would end up with a 314-seat majority in the House. Not that that's actually going to happen, but it's a pretty clear sign that things are going sideways at the moment and Republicans have problems to address.
Democrats, however, can't just claim they're on the upswing without putting some points on the board. And so far, with 16 special elections under our belt since Trump won, they haven't managed to do that yet. They have shown in many cases that their base is energized and they can drive turnout up considerably above expectations, but they haven't won any races that they wouldn't have been expected to win in normal circumstances.
Georgia's 6th Congressional District special election coming up next Tuesday represents their best opportunity yet. Donors have given $8 million to the party's candidate, Jon Ossoff, who is one of 18 candidates in the multi-party jungle primary for the heavily Republican seat of former GOP Rep. Tom Price. Planned Parenthood and MoveOn.org are among the partisan Democratic groups that have poured in six-figure amounts on his behalf in the form of independent expenditures.
The reason Democrats have so much hope: Although the district has gone heavily for Republican House candidates ever since Newt Gingrich held it, President Trump barely carried it in November, by just over a point. If Ohio and Michigan are examples of where Democratic voters embraced Trump, this suburban Atlanta seat is ground zero for the Republican voter who shuns him.
So here's the Democrats' big chance to prove that Trump is turning Republican voters into Democrats, and pick up a House seat in the process to help defend Obamacare from repeal. And if Ossoff falls flat? Well, it's going to be quite the morale-buster for Team Blue.
A new poll sponsored by Decision Desk HQ and RRHElections.com suggests they may be in a bit of disappointment. Ossoff is a sure bet to make the second round of balloting in June, but Democrats had been talking about whether he could avoid a runoff by winning 50 percent outright, or at least come close enough that he'd look like the favorite in that runoff.
That could all still happen, but this poll adds in some doubt. It puts Ossoff at just 39 percent, with the gaggle of Republicans in the race adding up to a combined 51 percent. Karen Handel, a former Georgia Secretary of State who ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 2014, leads that pack (as she has in most polls) with just 15 percent.
As in Kansas, the poll contains hints that Democrats are more energized than usual and will turn out in higher numbers than expected. They have been voting early: Among the likely voters surveyed who have already voted early, Ossoff clocks in at 50 percent. But he only gets 35 percent among those planning to vote on election day.
The poll's sample size is pretty small at 321, but it's not terribly inconsistent with other surveys. Given the current environment, I would expect Ossoff to do better than 39 percent, but such a performance would come as a real gut-punch for a Democratic base desperate to put a win up on the board.