Dems Look South to Test Anti-Trump Strategy

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 4/17/2017, 4:04 p.m.
Voters here sent Newt Gingrich to Congress for two decades. Tom Price, the conservative Republican tapped by President Donald Trump ...
Tom Price

By Eric Bradner

CNN

ROSWELL, Georgia (CNN) -- Voters here sent Newt Gingrich to Congress for two decades. Tom Price, the conservative Republican tapped by President Donald Trump to dismantle Obamacare, represented the district for another dozen years.

In other words, this isn't the type of place where Democrats often seek solace.

But the party, reeling from Hillary Clinton's loss in November and locked out of power in Washington, is looking to Atlanta's northern suburbs to test its ability to bounce back. While most of the country tries to move on from a bruising campaign, voters in Georgia's 6th congressional district return to the polls in April for a special election to replace Price, who Trump selected to become Health and Human Services secretary. Democrats are aiming to turn the race into an early referendum on the Trump presidency and hope success here could be replicated in gubernatorial races later this year in Virginia and New Jersey -- where suburban voters are also crucial -- and maybe even provide a playbook for regaining control of the House next year.

"It's a bellwether for what the Democratic Party is going to be about," Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez told me recently, almost giddy about the prospects for the race.

There's little reliable polling about the contest and, given recent political history, Democrats are careful not to display overconfidence. But the party is optimistic about its main candidate in the race, 30-year-old Jon Ossoff, a former congressional staffer who could benefit from demographic changes in the district and has an $8.3 million campaign war chest largely funded by small donors. But most importantly, Democrats sense a distrust of Trump that could help them here and in other wealthy, highly-educated and increasingly diverse congressional districts around the country that might otherwise support Republicans.

There's data to back up their suspicions. This district experienced one of the biggest collapses in support for a Republican presidential candidate last year (the biggest shift played out in Utah). While Mitt Romney bested Barack Obama by 23 points here in 2012, Trump beat Clinton by less than 2 points, according to data from the liberal Daily Kos and confirmed by representatives for both the Democratic and Republican congressional campaign committees.

This suburban region is the epicenter of an evolution that played out across the Sun Belt last year but was largely overshadowed by Trump's stunning victories in traditionally Democratic strongholds in the industrial Midwest. In Georgia and Arizona, where Clinton only made a last-minute effort to compete, she came closer to beating Trump than she did in the more traditional swing states of Ohio and Iowa. Reliably red Texas was also closer than Iowa.

So what does it all mean? New battlegrounds are emerging and it's hard to know how it will all shake out.

"Georgia's no closer than Ohio?" Gingrich said during a recent conversation. "With everything you and I knew about politics up until Election Night 2016, we'd have thought that was impossible."

Energized Democrats