To the utter shock and dismay of the mainstream media and the political punditry class, the Democrat did not capture a majority of the votes in Tuesday’s Sixth Congressional District special election in Georgia. Instead, Jon Ossoff will face former Secretary of State Karen Handel in a runoff on June 20.

That President Donald Trump is “vastly unpopular,” you see, means that the left will win these off year, special elections. Like in Kansas, right?

Well, maybe not.

While Georgia’s special elections are nominally non-partisan, the candidates claim a party affiliation for obvious strategic advantages. In the case of Georgia’s Sixth, there were 11 candidates taking the GOP label, five claiming to be Democrats, and two Independents (who took just 0.1 percent of the vote).

The Democrats rallied to Ossoff, led by Nancy Pelosi and her Hollywood cabal, and funded his campaign to the tune of $8.3 million, mostly from Washington, D.C., and La La Land. They translated this campaign coffer into 48 percent of the vote for their guy. Impressive.

Handel mustered up around $500,000, mostly from Georgia, snagged the endorsement of Georgia Trump Co-Chair Rayna Casey, and came out way in front of the GOP field with 20 percent (her closest competitor, Bob Gray, garnered 11 percent).

Ossoff’s showing, while almost certainly a high water mark for the Democrats in this contest, cannot not be understated.

Although pummeled in ad after ad for his millennialism (a video surfaced of him parrying with a light saber) and inexperience, he and his party did well in a district that rarely gives up more than 35 percent to the non-Republican candidate. It’s even more impressive considering the turnout (193,500) approached the same as 2014 when 210,500 voters went to the polls.

But Georgia’s D6, which has been in GOP hands since 1979, and re-electing former Representative and now HHS Secretary Tom Price with 60 percent-plus margins, is not likely to go blue.

Georgia Republicans, however, would do themselves a great disservice if they ignored the psephologists’ warning of that possibility. These are, after all, rather unconventional political times, as evidenced by Ossoff’s rise and a re-birth of the Handel political persona.

Handel is a strong candidate for the GOP in the Sixth. She is well known in the district and state, having served as Fulton County Commission chairman and Georgia Secretary of State. She’s articulate and smart but been out of office since 2010 and come up short in two other state wide elections.

While Handel can keep the district red, she’s going to need a state party that can help with some of the financial and get-out-the-vote heavy lifting.

The party will elect new leadership at its June convention (John Watson and three others are in the hunt to be the next chairman) and this new leadership will have to hit the ground running to be effective in the D6 runoff three weeks later.

And the party will need to take a page out of the Democrats’ (rather effective) playbook and make sure her former competitors rally behind Handel.

While this first round gave the GOP arguably a 52-48 split, the runoff is theirs to lose.

Gary Wisenbaker (gary@blackstonestrategy.com) is a corporate communications and political consultant at Blackstone, LLC.

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