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Bold Banter: What’s So Special About Special Elections?

Bold Banter is a series where our regular contributors debate important policy and cultural issues that we face as Americans.

Welcome to a special election breakdown edition of Bold Banter! Today, we will dissect the four most interesting special elections that will have an impact on federal representation.

This could be a chance for Democrats to pick up as many as four House seats before the 2018 midterms, or it could be a chance for the GOP to affirm their electoral win.

Zach: David, ready to get started?

David: I thought election season was over, but whatever…I digress.

California District 34

Incumbent: Xavier Becerra-(D) resigned after being named California Attorney General

Z: Dems have been screaming for a fresh new face of the party, and this candidate pool has a huge collection of first-generation Americans and millennials…lots of fresh meat.

D: I know one of the candidates who ran — Alejandra Campoverdi. She’s smart as a whip, has an impressive resume and is blindingly beautiful inside and out. I’m saddened that she didn’t make it to the runoff, and I hope we’ll see more of her in the public arena.

Z: Yeah, the jungle primary turned out to be not so exciting — Jimmy Gomez was the establishment favorite and took most of the votes. Robert Lee Ahn is joining him in the runoff; he’s a business guy and definitely not a career politician. Fun fact, Ahn would be the first Korean-American Congressman in 20 years.

D: Alejandra garnered all of my attention because of the personal connection. However, it’s very surprising that we don’t already have a Korean-American member of Congress. Seriously? South Korea is one of our largest trading partners — congressional representation would be most helpful.

Z: It would be really interesting to get a Korean-American on the Foreign Affairs Committee for the next four years (I see you Mr. Un). The runoff is already being framed as a career politician and establishment Democrat, Jimmy Gomez, against a grassroots new-comer in Robert Lee Ahn.

D: Grassroots is so hot right now. Watch out establishment people — you’re as stale as month-old Wonderbread.

Georgia District 6

Incumbent: Tom Price-(R) resigned after being confirmed as Secretary of Health and Human Services

Z: OK, the main event. This place loved Tom Price (who won with 61 percent of the vote in November) but didn’t support Trump nearly as much (he won the district by just one point).

D: Talk about one nutty race, since a primary election will not be held, and all candidates will compete in a special election on April 18. Pull out the popcorn!

Z: The real question is whether Jon Ossof (a Democrat) will break the 50 percent mark in the primary, and avoid the runoff on June 20.

D: Democrats should have Georgia on their mind. These days, you run into fewer people with southern drawls in the Atlanta area. That’s because Yankees are taking over, and they’re painting the once Republican stronghold blue. 

Z: Right, and Ossof is interesting — he’s only 30, and is very much “a bright young star” for the Dems. Liberals seem to be giving him somewhat of a platform. I knew about him long before researching this piece. I had no clue who the GOP candidates were.

D: As a die-hard Floridian, I’m naturally a little allergic to Georgia, and don’t really follow their politics. Ossof rings a bell, while no one else does in this crowded race.

Z: Neither am I, which makes it notable that Ossof had some name recognition with me. But that could be because of how candidates are splitting support at the moment. Right now, Ossof is polling at over 40 percent, but he is a lone Democrat, and nobody is fighting him for those votes. On the other hand, a cluster of different GOP candidates is sitting at 10 to 15 percent.

D: This is a windfall for Democrats, and they might find themselves holding a seat that’s reliably Republican.

Z: True, but last time I saw an overly crowded field and said, “Oh, Republicans look fractured, I doubt they can rally their votes around one president,” I got Trumped. So, I’m not convinced of the underdog yet.

Montana At-Large

Incumbent: Ryan Zinke-(R) resigned after being confirmed as Secretary of the Interior

Z: This is my favorite special, and not just because I love Montana. It’s because of the candidates. Rob Quist was born to a ranching family and grew up plucking a banjo. Greg Gianforte was born out-of-state and made his billions with a B in the tech industry. Guess who is who? That’s right, the small-town banjo player will be running for the Democratic Party, with the tech billionaire running for the GOP.

D: Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction, and party stereotypes tend to fall apart quickly upon further inspection.

Z: Nowhere are party stereotypes more useless than Montana. They truly don’t care about party lines. Hillary Clinton lost big compared to how Obama did in 2012 and in ’08 (in ’08 Obama lost the Treasure State by only two points). But this year, the state re-elected a Democratic governor while voting for Trump bigly! Don’t count on party or voting trends applying to a state with only half a million voters on a good day.

D: I’m going to tread lightly here because I know you’re a proud Montanan. You guys seem to march to your own drum.

Z: Yeah, and “out-of-staters” are usually unpopular but tolerated; Greg Gianforte is a very wealthy businessman from out-of-state who ran against a fairly popular governor and lost in 2016. In fact, the final polls had Gianforte winning by a couple points, but he lost by nearly five. After being about the only GOP candidate in the country to underperform Donald Trump during the 2016 general election, he is running again in a similar race.

D: Folksy banjo music could end up being tech-mogul kryptonite. This one is going to be a squeaker.

Z: If gambling odds on political races is a thing, this one will be the most unpredictable.

South Carolina District 5

Incumbent: Mick Mulvaney-(R) resigned after being confirmed as Director of the Office of Management and Budget

Z: The excitement around the South Carolina 5 is going to depend on how April special elections go. The primary isn’t until May 2, and the district has been reliably red for several election cycles — Trump expanded on Romney’s win margin by a couple points. This would only be interesting if the first group of specials show some sort of “anti-Trump” trend.

D: A minor side note: Mick was a member of the Freedom Caucus, and now he’s working for President Trump, who loathes this group of arch conservatives. I would expect fewer Christmas cards this year for Mr. Mulvaney. Awkward!

Z: It does have the same feel as Georgia (but there is a separate primary), in that 70 percent of the primary field is Republican. Lots of different Republican ideologies all running against a fairly singular Democrat ideology.

D: South Carolina is as red as Harvard’s colors. Zach gets mad every time I mention I went to Harvard, so here it is.

Z: Ignoring where you studied (because who cares), it will be much more interesting to see how this new congressman compares to his successor. Will the winner be cozy with the Freedom Caucus, or will he get beers with the Tuesday Group?

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