By: Lisa Hagen
Democrats are betting big that voter pushback against President Trump’s young administration can help them turn a Georgia special election into a House seat pickup.
The suburban Atlanta seat left open by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has received a groundswell of interest from both parties. The historically red district that Trump carried by only 1 point looks set to gather national attention as a well-funded contest before the 2018 midterms.
While Democrats failed to win Georgia in 2016, the party now feels emboldened to mobilize the energy from anti-Trump protests and make a play for a reach district by coalescing behind former congressional aide Jon Ossoff as the party’s candidate.
“With all of the talk of division within the Democratic Party, I think this campaign is proving that there’s unprecedented unity,” Ossoff told The Hill. “There’s support from the party, there’s tremendous support from grassroots all pulling in the same direction, and that is motivating, encouraging and exciting.”
Ossoff, a 30-year-old investigative filmmaker and former aide to Democratic Georgia Reps. John Lewis and Hank Johnson, jumped in with virtually no name recognition. Still, he’s seen a surge in momentum, with millions of dollars flooding to boost his campaign and heightened interest nationally.
Four other Democrats have qualified for the race, but the party has rallied around one candidate to get a better shot at making a likely runoff. The field of 18 total candidates — regardless of party affiliation — will square off in a “jungle primary” on April 18. If no one reaches a majority, as seems likely in the crowded field, the top two vote-getters head to runoff on June 20.
Still, Democrats acknowledge that Ossoff could face trouble even making the runoff. Price consistently won reelection by at least 60 percent of the vote, and his seat was previously held by GOP heavyweights former Speaker Newt Gingrich and now-Sen. Johnny Isakson.
The seat has shifted nationally over the past four years, giving Democrats hope for a surprisingly strong showing. In 2012, Mitt Romney won the district by 24 points. But Trump clinched it by only 1 point, despite Price’s overwhelming victory.
Given Trump’s narrow win in the district and low approval ratings nationwide, Democrats are looking to harness the energy and activism from demonstrations against Trump and his policies as they set their eyes on an early House target before the 2018 midterms officially gear up.
Ossoff’s campaign claims to have $2 million in contributions since jumping into the race. The readers of liberal blog Daily Kos have raised more than $1 million, while the End Citizens United group announced that it has received $150,000 in donations for him. He’s also earned the endorsements from other progressive groups and Lewis, a civil rights icon who publicly clashed with Trump ahead of the inauguration.