The race to replace former U.S. Rep. Tom Price is more than an early test of President Donald Trump’s popularity. It’s also a bitter battle between powerful Republican factions and a proving ground for Democrats who hope Trump helps them win conservative areas.
Eighteen candidates qualified to run this week for the April 18 special election to succeed Price. And the fight over the suburban Atlanta district, which spans from east Cobb County to north DeKalb County, could fast become a template for the 2018 election.
For Republicans, the biggest debate might be how aggressively to embrace Trump in a district that he carried by just 1 point in November. Candidates range from Trump loyalists to establishment-friendly politicians who hardly mention his name and play up their independence from his White House.
Democrats see a tantalizing opportunity to swipe a district that Price, who was confirmed last week as Trump’s health secretary, won with 62 percent of the vote. And some party leaders are banking on an untested newcomer with impressive fundraising chops to pull off the upset.
With so many candidates in the race — more than a dozen paid the $5,520 fee before qualifying ended Wednesday — the race is wide open. Adding to the unpredictability, all the candidates will be on the same ballot regardless of their party. A June 20 runoff between the top two vote-getters seems a guarantee.