The Trump effect in special elections

The Donald Trump administration has existed now for nearly 100 days – that arbitrary yet significant milestone attached to every new presidential administration. Beyond the Neil Gorsuch appointment to the Supreme Court, activities have been limited mostly to executive orders, many of them just proposing to study an issue. The only notable legislation that reached Trump’s desk and was signed was a bill that made it easier for people who are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance and are in need of assistance with performing their daily functions to purchase guns. That bill was signed in private.

The appointment of deputy and assistant cabinet secretaries has been beyond slow. Only about a tenth of the more than 500 appointees subject to Senate confirmation have even been nominated, much less confirmed. Heck, even Chris Collins is frustrated with how internal White House feuding has left the administration in a weak and awkward position.

Five of the appointments that have been confirmed have created congressional vacancies. The appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General left a vacancy in one of Alabama’s Senate seats. That vacancy was quickly filled by a former lobbyist appointed by the Alabama Governor who was in the midst of a sex scandal. The Governor has since resigned and the new Alabama Governor has scheduled a special election for later this year to fill Sessions’ uncompleted term.

The cabinet appointments also created House vacancies, including:

  • Mike Pompeo, from Kansas, who became Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
  • Tom Price, from Georgia, who is now Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services
  • Mick Mulvaney, from South Carolina, who is now Director of Budget and Management
  • Ryan Zinke, from Montana, the new Secretary of the Department of the Interior

The four House vacancies have resulted in the scheduling of special elections to fill the seats. The Kansas seat was won by the Republican candidate by a margin of seven percent of the vote. Pompeo won by 31 points last November and Trump carried the district by 27 percent. Republicans poured millions into the election that should have been in the bag for their candidate, who ran against a Democrat who had never sought public office before.

In Georgia’s 6th District a jungle primary with 18 candidates last week left Democratic neophyte Jon Ossoff with more than 48 percent of the vote. The closest Republican in the race, Karen Handel, attracted less than 20 percent of the vote. Price carried the district with more than 63 percent last November. Ossoff and Handel will face off on June 20 to determine the next member of Congress from the district.

The Montana special election is scheduled for May 25th. Republicans have taken steps to make voting more difficult in that election by cancelling plans to allow voting by mail, a move that would have saved Montana’s counties half a million dollars. They have poured at least two million into the campaign thus far. Democrat Rob Quist is challenging Greg Gianforte. Gianforte seems to be running against Nancy Pelosi.

The South Carolina special election in the 5th Congressional District will begin with party primaries on May 2nd, followed by a primary run-off on May 16 (if necessary). The general election will be on June 20.

One of the results of having attended several Republican presidential campaign rallies in South Carolina last year is that I find myself on the email list for all sorts of Republican candidates and organizations who have purchased the lists of failed presidential candidates. That brings all kinds of mail to me that provide a reading on where things stand in this year’s special elections.

My email box has been flooded since the Georgia primary with messages from the Republican candidate in the run-off, Karen Handel. Accompanying her pleas for money are similar ones from Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich. Gingrich once held the seat, which has been in Republican hands since 1979. The messages are all pretty consistent. Here is a typical Handel email:

Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and the rest of the “resistance” did everything in their power to beat me. They poured more than $8 million in out-of-state donations into our Georgia to try to steal our seat with a candidate that doesn’t even live in our district. They lost. But our work is not done. Our opponent has already raised more than $8 million to steal this seat from the Republicans. Who knows how much he’ll raise in the run-off… Will you chip in right now to help fund our EMERGENCY 48 HOUR MONEY BOMB?


Here’s one more:

I am up against great odds right now. Literally every single member of the Democrat party is throwing in their support and money to defeat me. But let me tell you a secret that the Democrats haven’t caught onto. This campaign is not about me. It’s about our conservative values and ideals. It’s about securing a better future for our children. It’s about making our nation more prosperous and safe. In order to win this race and go on to support our nation and children, I need your help to fight back and get out of the Democrat’s crosshairs… The Democrats are watching our every move like hawks… They know if they can defeat me, they can go on to win more elections and try to regain their liberal majority in Congress.


The interesting thing about such emails is what they say and what they don’t say.

The Handel and company emails say that she is running against Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Here’s a news flash – you already beat those folks last November. The Republican majority in the House is one of the largest in the past seventy-five years. Republicans also kept control of the Senate in the 2016 election. So, Ms. Handel, you are looking to join the Republicans who already control everything in Washington.

This is what the emails of and on behalf of the Republican House candidate in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District are not saying:

  • Send Karen Handel to Washington to help Donald Trump pass his legislative agenda
  • Send Karen Handel to Washington to get Trump’s wall built on the Mexican border, and make sure the Mexicans pay for it
  • Send Karen Handel to Washington to immediately repeal and replace Obamacare
  • Send Karen Handel to Washington to support the federal budget proposed by Republicans in March which will add $9 trillion to the federal deficit over the next ten years
  • Send Karen Handel to Washington to resist efforts to make Donald Trump disclose his conflict-laden tax returns

Of course such a campaign platform could go on and on with support for more of Trump’s damaging agenda. But there is no point. Karen Handel, the candidate du jour of House Republicans, won’t dare mouth a word about these or other Trump programs for the very simple reason that supporting Donald Trump openly will bring her candidacy down.

A special election for a strongly partisan House seat is usually a slam dunk. This one thus far, not so much. Much will be written and spoken until the June 20th primary about how Jon Ossoff can’t or won’t win, but he already has. For any candidate to get more than 48 percent of the vote in an election with 18 candidates is remarkable. That Democrat Ossoff ran so far ahead of the next closest candidate in a solid red district is quite an achievement. And he has a decent chance of being elected on June 20.

The 2018 mid-term elections are still 18 months away. With Trump doing his best to screw things up, it should be quite a ride.