Now that Democrat Jon Ossoff failed to capture the necessary percentage to win Georgia's 6th District special election outright, on June 20 he will face off with the top Republican vote-getter (19 percent): former Secretary of State Karen Handel.
With near-final results in, former congressional staffer Ossoff won nearly 49 percent of the vote in the 18-candidate race.
But is a battle between President Trump and Ossoff in the works? Trump was vocal on Twitter denouncing Ossoff, and many wonder if he will wade deep in the June 20 hotly contested race.
“The run-off June 20 will be an even more bitter battle,” veteran Georgia pundit Phil Kent, CEO of Insider Advantage and former editor of the Augusta Chronicle, predicted. “Trump should come down to campaign for Handel, and it will be a referendum on Trump.”
Whether Trump wants to take the risk and do just that is uncertain — and risky. Where John McCain and Mitt Romney both swept the 6th District against Barack Obama with about 60 percent of the vote, Trump last year barely eked out a win there with 48 percent of the vote over Hillary Clinton.
Ossoff, 30, and a first-time candidate, raised more than $8 million in large part by making the case that his triumph in the race would “Make Trump Furious.” In a way, Trump was furious before a single vote was counted. On the morning of the election, the President tweeted and called for a wave against Ossoff.
Actual issues seemed to take a back seat toward how candidates could demonstrate support or rejection of Trump and his agenda. Ossoff said he wanted to keep Obamacare as it was and supported “reproductive rights.” Handel and other Republicans all called for a “repeal and replace” policy toward Obamacare and were strongly pro-life.
“Ossoff got where he is now through a lot of energy — and $8 million,” former Rep. John Linder, R-Ga., a past chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told me.
Now there is clear nervousness about the run-off and whether the GOP can keep the suburban Atlanta district that has been firmly in its hands since first won in 1978 by a young college professor named Newt Gingrich.
“It looks as though the Republican grass-roots machine is very rusty in the Atlanta suburbs,” veteran elections analyst Jay O’Callaghan told me, likening it to that of Republicans in Kansas’ 4th District in its closer-than-expected special election for Congress last Tuesday.
O’Callaghan emphasized that “the early voting laws give Democrats a tremendous advantage because they have weeks to turn out their one-party machine voters. They used to have only 12 hours on Election Day.” The Democrat pulled off his near-win Tuesday in part because 77 percent of mail-in ballots and 62 percent of the in-person absentee votes were cast for him. However, three-fourths of the votes were cast on at the voting booth and 58 percent of them went for Handel and the 10 other Republican candidates.
He also cited evidence that the district is now politically polarized. Of the votes cast for all 18 candidates — 11 Republicans, five Democrats, and two independents — roughly 49 percent were cast for Democrats and 48 percent for Republicans.
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