Why Georgia's 6th district race between Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel is so competitive

Georgia’s 6th Congressional District has long been a Republican stronghold. In fact, as recently as 2006 and 2010, Democrats didn’t even put forth a candidate to run for the seat, which was held by former Rep. Tom Price. That all changed when President Donald Trump tapped to Price serve as Health and Human Services secretary.

Price’s seat is now up for grabs, and it’s turned into the most high-stakes special election in years. The race, which pits 30-year-old Democrat and political neophyte Jon Ossoff against Republican and Georgia’s former secretary of state Karen Handel, is the most expensive House race in US history. To date, it has pulled in more than $US50 million, and both Democrats and Republicans have billed it as the first major referendum on Trump’s presidency.

The 6th district is competitive for several reasons. For one, its demographics are significantly different than those of Georgia as a whole in a few critical areas:

On average, 6th district voters fall into higher income brackets and obtain higher levels of education than Georgia voters do. Sixry per cent of voters in the district have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 29% of Georgia voters overall, according to 2015 US Census data. And 6th district voters have a median household income of $US83,800, while Georgians have a median household income of $US49,600.

Research shows that as the partisan divide has grown in the US, more educated voters have tended to lean Democratic. Moreover, although wealthier voters have voted Republican in the past, polls in 2016 showed those from the richest households favoured Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to Trump by a 2-1 margin.

The 6th district also has a higher proportion of white, Asian, and Hispanic voters compared to Georgia as a whole.

The district, which leans eight points more Republican than the rest of the country, favoured Trump over Clinton by just one percentage point in November. By comparison, Trump won the state of Georgia by 5.1%.

Demographics, as well as Trump’s election and the fact that he selected Price to serve as Health and Human Services secretary, have contributed to a “tremendous amount of energy on both sides in the district, but particularly among Democrats,” said Chip Lake, a Republican strategist in Georgia and former chief of staff on Capitol Hill.

Ossoff and Handel are vying for a seat that’s open because “the president selected Tom Price, who held the district, for a cabinet position,” Lake said. “And not just any cabinet position. He’s the Health and Human Services secretary with the sole mission of dismantling Obamacare.”

Democrats see an opportunity to win a race in a Republican district now, Lake said. “They have gone all in to do it. Their base is energised, they have the momentum, and that’s why this district is competitive.”

Polls leading up to the race have shown an increasingly tight race, and some surveys have Ossoff and Handel polling within the margin of error of one another.

“This is important,” Lake said. “If [Republicans] don’t win this election, that would be a problem.”

NOW WATCH: 3 senators livestreamed their hunt across DC for the secretive GOP healthcare bill

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.