The special election for Tom Price’s vacated seat in Congress between Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel will finally end on Tuesday, a day after becoming the most expensive race in the history of the House of Representatives. That level of engagement isn’t surprising, though, given the stakes. The race for GA-6 has been widely seen as a divining rod for how much of the country, but particularly for how suburban voters, will vote in 2018—and for just how many Republicans will be vulnerable in the next round of congressional elections. After all, Tom Price won re-election in 2016 by more than 20 points, and the Handel-Ossoff race is shaping up to be a squeaker.
The race is also being presented as a referendum on Trumpcare. If Handel loses, the thinking goes, it could spook Republicans. “It could at least give them pause that there will be a bigger backlash than they even thought and that they should rethink this huge bill,” one health care expert told HuffPost. Given how tight the House vote was and the fact that Mitch McConnell currently doesn’t have the votes to pass the bill in the Senate, a result that jars even a few congressional Republicans could have a profound effect.
There are reasons to be suspicious of both of these narratives. The race between Ossoff and Handel is likely to be very close, and even a narrow Handel victory would affirm what we already know: that the electoral momenum is on the side of the Democrats, that many longtime Republican voters are disgusted with their own party, and that the health care bill being pushed through Congress is historically unpopular. Unless there’s an unexpected blowout, the result of this race probably isn’t going to tell us anything we don’t already know about 2018 or the ultimate fate of the health care bill. Still, Democrats and Republicans both need a win to strengthen their respective messages on health care and other issues.