Democrats Hope to Capitalize on Trump Cabinet Pick

Rep. Tom Price’s confirmation as HHS secretary would open an Atlanta-area seat that Donald Trump barely carried.

Rep. Tom Price of Georgia and his wife, Betty, speak with Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank (left) before an NFL football game in Atlanta in 2012.
AP Photo/John Bazemore
Colin Diersing
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Colin Diersing
Dec. 2, 2016, 12:49 p.m.

A race next year in Geor­gia’s 6th Dis­trict could rep­res­ent an early test for Demo­crats’ abil­ity to make in­roads with af­flu­ent, highly edu­cated voters who tra­di­tion­ally vote Re­pub­lic­an but moved sig­ni­fic­antly to­ward Demo­crats in the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion.

Rep. Tom Price has held the seat since 2005 and was again reelec­ted eas­ily last month, but the in­cum­bent’s con­firm­a­tion as sec­ret­ary of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices would open the seat and trig­ger a spe­cial elec­tion with­in the first few months of the Don­ald Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

While the dis­trict is tra­di­tion­ally rock-sol­id Re­pub­lic­an—Mitt Rom­ney car­ried it over Pres­id­ent Obama by 23 points—Hil­lary Clin­ton came with­in 1.5 points of Trump there, ac­cord­ing to a Daily Kos ana­lys­is. Some Demo­crats think Trump’s un­pop­ular­ity in the sub­urb­an At­lanta dis­trict, along with shift­ing demo­graph­ics, could give the party a shot if it can re­cruit a strong can­did­ate.

“This is the kind of con­gres­sion­al seat we need to do bet­ter in than we’ve been do­ing, both to make in­roads in the U.S. House as well as to have a bet­ter shot at win­ning Geor­gia in 2020,” said Geor­gia Demo­crat­ic strategist Jeff DiS­antis. “We need to be com­pet­it­ive in a place like this to have any chance at get­ting back in the game na­tion­wide.”

Re­pub­lic­ans enter the forth­com­ing race with some clear ad­vant­ages: There ap­pear to be far more po­ten­tially strong GOP can­did­ates con­sid­er­ing a run than Demo­crats, and no Demo­crat has won the seat since Newt Gin­grich first won it in 1978.

“If you’re a Demo­crat, you’ve got to have six or sev­en things, many of which you can’t con­trol, go your way in or­der to have a chance,” Re­pub­lic­an con­sult­ant Chip Lake said. “I really don’t fore­see any real­ist­ic scen­ario that has a Demo­crat win­ning a run­off elec­tion in the seat.”

Demo­crats’ hope rests on a can­did­ate con­sol­id­at­ing sup­port early in the all-party spe­cial to en­sure a clear path in­to the run­off while Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates spend weeks bash­ing each oth­er. Demo­crats con­tend they have a chance if they can field a can­did­ate cap­able of per­suad­ing voters to take out any frus­tra­tion with Trump on the Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee for the seat.

“The Re­pub­lic­an Party is Trump now, and vice versa, so there’s no reas­on to think the same re­ac­tion isn’t go­ing to be there,” DiS­antis said.

Sev­er­al Demo­crats men­tioned state Rep. Taylor Ben­nett, an at­tor­ney and former Geor­gia Tech quar­ter­back, as a can­did­ate who could make the race com­pet­it­ive. He won a spe­cial elec­tion last year for his over­lap­ping le­gis­lat­ive seat but lost reelec­tion nar­rowly last month. Ben­nett did not re­turn a re­quest for com­ment.

One chal­lenge may be per­suad­ing a prom­ising can­did­ate to risk los­ing a race in a dis­trict Demo­crats are not ac­cus­tomed to win­ning. Elly Dobbs, a former state rep­res­ent­at­ive whom one Demo­crat­ic op­er­at­ive floated as a po­ten­tial can­did­ate, said she is not in­ter­ested and that “it would be very dif­fi­cult for a Demo­crat to win that seat.” State Rep. Scott Hol­comb, whom op­er­at­ives on both sides of the aisle men­tioned as a po­ten­tially prom­ising can­did­ate, said he does not plan on run­ning.

On the Re­pub­lic­an side, a wide swath of po­ten­tial can­did­ates are rumored to be con­sid­er­ing a run at the seat, while state Sen. Jud­son Hill has already an­nounced a run.

Kar­en Han­del, a former sec­ret­ary of state who has lost races for gov­ernor and Sen­ate, would enter with high name re­cog­ni­tion and an ex­ist­ing net­work. State Speak­er Pro Tem­pore Jan Jones is con­sid­er­ing a run, as are a num­ber of oth­er former and cur­rent state rep­res­ent­at­ives and sen­at­ors. An­oth­er source of spec­u­la­tion: Bruce LeV­ell, a prom­in­ent Trump sup­port­er in the state.

One name, however, dom­in­ates much of the spec­u­la­tion on the Re­pub­lic­an side: state Rep. Betty Price, an an­es­thesi­olo­gist and wife of the out­go­ing in­cum­bent. Price told Na­tion­al Journ­al she has not de­cided wheth­er to run and is still weigh­ing a vari­ety of factors, in­clud­ing the re­spons­ib­il­it­ies that would come with her hus­band’s new po­s­i­tion.

“I’m very in­ter­ested in who fills the seat—I’m just wait­ing to see how it all shakes down,” Price said, not­ing that she thinks it would be help­ful to have someone with a med­ic­al back­ground in the seat as Obama­care is be­ing de­bated. Both Price and her hus­band are phys­i­cians.

“I’m not en­thu­si­ast­ic about any­body at the mo­ment, and some I’m very un­enthu­si­ast­ic about,” she said.

The com­pressed pro­cess hands a clear ad­vant­age to someone able to quickly mo­bil­ize a polit­ic­al net­work or who has ex­ist­ing fin­an­cial re­sources, es­pe­cially in the ex­pens­ive At­lanta me­dia mar­ket. Price ar­gued that a premi­um on name re­cog­ni­tion and abil­ity to quickly mount a cam­paign would both ac­crue to her fa­vor.

“It’s a big race, but the good thing is it’s a short race,” Price said.

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