A special election in Georgia on Tuesday will pit a 30-year-old, extraordinarily well-funded Democratic underdog against the Republicans that have held the seat for nearly 40 years.
The election in the state’s 6th district, a suburban district north of Atlanta, is widely seen as an indication of how Democrats and Republicans will contend with one another in the Trump era. The Dems have framed this race as a centerpiece of their anti-Trump strategy, and Jon Ossoff, the Democratic challenger, as a test for how the Democratic Party will present itself in 2018. But it’s not the first test of Democratic electability in the Trump era. Democrat James Thompson, a civil rights attorney and veteran from Wichita, ran for Mike Pompeo’s seat in Kansas’s 4th Congressional District on April 11, ultimately losing in what proved to be an unexpectedly tight race.
The Georgia election is unusual in that it features an open primary in which Republicans and Democrats run against one another. If any one candidate (of 17 in the race) takes more than 50 percent of the vote tomorrow, they’ll have the seat — and Ossoff is polling at 45 percent, according to a WSB-Landmark Communications poll, some 28 points ahead of the next contender. His opponents, most of whom are Republicans, haven’t been able to consolidate votes — Karen Handel, former Georgia secretary of state, trails in a distant second with 17.4 percent.
If none of the candidates wins with 50 percent of the vote, the top two contenders will go head-to-head in a runoff in June.
On Monday, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to rally the vote against Ossoff, calling him a “super Liberal Democrat” who wants to “protect criminals, allow illegal immigration, and raise taxes!”
Democrats have been pouring money into Ossoff’s campaign. In the first quarter of 2017, he brought in an astounding $8.3 million, allowing him to advertise prolifically and send door-knockers to every corner of his district, and making him one of the best-funded congressional candidates in history. Democratic congressional candidates in Georgia’s 6th District raised a combined $836,228 since 2000, according to Ballotpedia. Ossoff raised 10 times that much in a single quarter.
Georgia’s 6th is an affluent district near Atlanta where 60 percent of people have a college degree, according to U.S. Census data. It has voted Republican since 1979 but went for Trump by only 2 percentage points in November. It will be a bellwether for whether suburban Republicans have been swayed by Trump’s performance and his low approval rating, which is hovering around 40 percent.
“Understanding that people are more than numbers, we have made a strategic decision to invest in qualitative research that will not only help up us in Georgia’s 6th District but also inform our message to key groups of voters ahead of 2018,” a DCCC spokesperson, Tyler Law, told NPR.
On the other hand, Republicans are pointing to this race as evidence for just how much money it takes to mount a challenge in entrenched red districts. It’s one thing to pour this money into a special election; when the 435 races that will take place in 2018 are happening at once, neither party will be able to fundraise like the Democrats have for Ossoff.
“The bad news for him is that he had $8 million,” Brian Robinson, the GOP strategist and former staffer to Georgia Gov. Brian Deal, told local Georgia news station WSB-TV. “No one in this race has come anywhere near the resources that he has, and he only has 45 percent. That’s bad news for any Democrat going into a runoff in a Republican-friendly, long-term Republican-held district.”