High stakes Georgia runoff could test Trump’s clout
Dunwoody, Ga. — A narrow miss by a Democratic newcomer in a conservative Georgia House district has triggered a high-stakes runoff that could test President Donald Trump’s influence and the limits of the backlash against him.
Democrat Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old former congressional aide fueled by a colossal fundraising haul from out-of-state donors, came within two percentage points of an outright majority win Tuesday in an 18-candidate field in Georgia’s traditionally Republican 6th Congressional District.
In second place in the special election, but lagging far behind with just under 20 percent of the vote, was Republican Karen Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state well known to voters. Handel had treated Trump gingerly in a district the president barely carried, but declared Wednesday she’d like to see him campaign for her ahead of the June 20 runoff.
“We want everybody who is supportive of Republicans, so absolutely,” Handel told the Associated Press after taking a congratulatory call from Trump Wednesday morning. “We are going to be united from this point going forward.”
Trump, who attacked Ossoff in recent days as a liberal shill and mocked him for living outside of the district, crowed Wednesday on Twitter about the outcome in Georgia following Democrats’ failure to win a different special election in Kansas last week.
“Dems failed in Kansas and are now failing in Georgia. Great job Karen Handel! It is now Hollywood vs. Georgia on June 20th,” Trump wrote, alluding to celebrity donations that came in for Ossoff.
Still, the close outcomes in Georgia as well as conservative Kansas underscored Democrats’ potential to capitalize on surging liberal energy following Trump’s election.
Both major parties are approaching the runoff in Georgia as an important test ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. Democrats have a long-shot chance of taking back control of the House next year and breaking the GOP’s monopoly control of Washington. But it will require picking up more than 20 seats and winning over droves of voters like those in the affluent, well-educated Georgia district that spans Atlanta’s northern suburbs.
As for whether Trump will campaign with Handel, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said: “We’ll see if we’re needed.”
The winner in Georgia will succeed Republican Tom Price, who resigned to join Trump’s administration as health secretary. Republicans have held the seat since 1979.
More tests await in the weeks to come, with special elections approaching in Montana and South Carolina in May and June.