Nationally, the race will be cast as an early test of Trump’s popularity in an establishment-friendly district that never really cozied up to him during the presidential campaign. The contest seems destined to attract plenty of outside cash and attention.
And locally, the victor will represent a wealthy swath of north Atlanta’s suburbs, from east Cobb County to north DeKalb County, that has been a proven springboard to higher office. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson preceded Price, who once aimed to be the House’s leader or run for governor before being tapped by Trump.
More than a dozen candidates could formally join the race, including a former statewide officeholder who could be the first Republican woman to represent Georgia in Congress and the head of Trump’s diversity coalition. A gaggle of current and former lawmakers could also join the field, along with self-styled outsider business executives able to dig deep into their own bank accounts to fund their campaigns.
“This one could be fun,” said Mark Rountree, a Georgia pollster. “And there’s no telling what could happen — not this early.”
A wide-open race
Unpredictable is an understatement. Two factors help explain why it’s difficult to forecast: Special elections normally produce low voter turnout, and each of the candidates will be on the same ballot regardless of party affiliation. A runoff between the two top vote-getters seems all but guaranteed.
The cost could be astronomical as well, taking place in one of the most expensive television markets in the nation. While some Georgia congressional campaigns hardly muster seven-figure expenses, this race could be one of the costliest special elections in state history. Already, candidates are raising cash or making bold promises to supporters about how deep they’re willing to dig into their own wallets.
On paper, the race should be the GOP’s to lose. Price won a commanding victory for another two-year term in November with about 62 percent of the vote. But Hillary Clinton came within a whisker of winning the district, and Democrats hope they can consolidate behind a single candidate to land a spot in the runoff.
There’s no clear front-runner, but a December poll by Rountree’s Landmark/Rosetta Stone firm showed former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel in the lead with about 20 percent of the vote. More than half of the electorate was undecided — a sign of how wide open this race is.
And Cobb County economist Mohammad Ali Bhuiyan, who led an aborted effort to hold a Nobel peace summit in Atlanta, is advertising himself as potentially the first Republican Muslim member of the U.S. House — and an enemy to “out of control” government spending.
“Washington has become a center of power to serve and protect special-interest groups and is no longer good for ordinary citizens,” he said.
Perhaps the biggest unknown is whether Price’s wife, state Rep. Betty Price, will join the field. She has said it’s “premature” to announce her decision.
Democrats hope to unify
The Democratic side is almost as jumbled. They hope that Trump’s presidency can galvanize their supporters, though landing an upset victory on solidly conservative turf seems unlikely unless they can unify behind a sole candidate.
Harrell enjoys the support of some local legislators, including state Rep. Scott Holcomb, and Slotin is vying to be the “progressive” voice of the district. But it’s Ossoff who has commanded the lion’s share of the attention and fundraising dollars.
He’s also benefited from being in a civil rights icon’s orbit. He was with Lewis and Johnson at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport last month to protest Trump’s immigration policy, and Lewis has called on Democrats to pick Ossoff.
“We should unite behind him,” Lewis said, “and send a clear message that Donald Trump doesn’t represent our values.”