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Special Election to Replace Price Could Present Opportunity for Georgia Democrats

Donald Trump only carried Tom Price’s 6th District by 1 point

Former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, seen here during her 2014 Senate campaign, is considering running for Rep. Tom Price’s seat if he’s confirmed as Health and Human Services Secretary. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, seen here during her 2014 Senate campaign, is considering running for Rep. Tom Price’s seat if he’s confirmed as Health and Human Services Secretary. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

An opening in a safe Republican Georgia congressional seat wouldn’t normally have Democrats excited.

But President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to tap 6th District Rep. Tom Price for Health and Human Services secretary will trigger a special election in a district that Trump carried by just 1 point. 

A lot can change in four years.

“If you look at the Obama results in that district, Democrats don’t have a prayer,” said Atlanta-based Democratic consultant Allan Crow. Mitt Romney won the district by 24 points in 2012. 

Hillary Clinton’s campaign made noise about seriously contesting Georgia in 2016, but its failure there has been overshadowed by her surprising loss in traditionally blue states.

Still, the difference in the presidential results in this district over the past four years, and the fact that Clinton carried most of the suburban Atlanta counties, has reinforced Democratic hopes that the Peach State is trending blue. Trump carried the district 48 to 47 percent, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections.

Better than Trump?

But other Republicans could fare better in the district than Trump.

“Trump underperformed where Republicans normally do well in the metro counties” because he struggled with well-educated voters, said GOP consultant Chip Lake. 

A congressional nominee in the 6th District likely wouldn’t have that weakness, Lake said. Price, a six-term incumbent, carried the 6th District with 62 percent of the vote. The clearest sign Republicans feel they have the advantage here may be the crowded field of potential candidates interested in replacing Price. 

The list begins with his wife, state Rep. Betty Price. The former Roswell City Council member won a special election for her state House seat in 2015. She’d start the race with obvious name recognition, but on Tuesday, it seemed she might be more likely to remain in the state House.

GOP operatives mentioned several other women who could help reduce the gender gap in the GOP conference if they won here. Former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel is a top contender to jump in the race. She ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2010 and for the Senate in 2014, losing in both Republican primaries. But she’s a political ally of Price’s and may decide against running if his wife runs. Jane Jones, the state House speaker pro tempore, could also run. She’s the highest-ranking woman in the state’s GOP and has proved to be a strong fundraiser.

A handful of other state legislators are in the mix. State Sen. Brandon Beach, of Alpharetta, is the president and CEO of the North Fulton Chamber of Commerce. State Sen. Judson Hill is also likely to run.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and mention several other contenders, including State Sen. John Albers, a telecom executive who represents parts of Fulton and Cherokee Counties. State Rep. Chuck Martin, the former mayor of Alpharetta, is also in the hunt.

As for nonelected officials, the Journal-Constitution’s Greg Blustein mentions immigration attorney Charles Kuck, who wrote on Facebook Tuesday, “Now, it is time to see what the chances and options are in running for Congress.”

The same report mentions Cade Joiner, a former political fundraiser who started a paper shredding business, and potential self-funder Kelly Stewart, a former Johns Creek councilwoman. Republicans say former state Sen. Dan Moody, who joined the state Department of Transportation board, could also self-fund a campaign. 

An opportunity for Democrats 

Democrats mentioned personal injury lawyer Rob Teilhet, the former chief deputy whip of the state House Democratic Caucus, who ran unsuccessfully for attorney general in 2010. Teilhet did not return a call for comment by press time.

“If this turns into national Democrats versus national Republicans, Republicans will win,” Crow said. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity for Democrats, he said, especially if Republicans nominate an entrenched state legislator or tea party-type candidate who alienates moderate, business-friendly Republicans in the district.

“If Democrats can come up with someone who’s out of the mainstream, not a real politician, maybe even a self-funder, who says, ‘Let’s drain the swamp,’” Crow said, “that kind of candidate could be real interesting.”

A lot will depend on the national mood during the special election, which may not occur until next spring and could be one of the first federal elections after Trump is sworn in. If no candidate clears 50 percent of the vote — unlikely in what will surely be a crowded race — there’ll be a runoff.

While special election turnouts don’t typically favor Democrats, Crow said, frustration with the Trump administration could boost a Democratic nominee. On the GOP side, it remains to be seen how closely Republicans will want to be identified with the president-elect. “Right now, it’s fairly safe to wrap your arms around him,” Lake said. But that may not be the case — especially in this district — after he’s been in office for several months.  

Price had been considering a run for governor in 2018. Now that he likely won’t be seeking that office, another member of the delegation could look at leaving Washington to pursue the executive slot. Republicans say 14th District Rep. Tom Graves is the most likely member to eye the job.

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