Runoff in conservative Georgia House district could test Trump, opposition
DUNWOODY, Ga. — A narrow miss by a Democratic newcomer in a conservative Georgia House district has triggered a highstakes runoff that could test President Donald Trump’s influence and the limits of the backlash against him.
Democrat Jon Ossoff, 30, a former congressional aide fueled by a fundraising haul from out-of-state donors, came within two percentage points of an outright victory Tuesday over 17 other candidates in Georgia’s traditionally Republican 6th Congressional District.
Republican Karen Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, lagged in a distant second, qualifying her for the runoff. Well known to voters, Ms. Handel had treated Mr. 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,” Ms. Handel said after taking a congratulatory call from Mr. Trump on Wednesday. “We are going to be united from this point going forward.”
Mr. Trump, who attacked Mr. Ossoff in recent days as a liberal shill and mocked him for living outside of the district, crowed on Twitter about the outcome 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,” Mr. Trump wrote, alluding to celebrity donors to Mr. Ossoff.
Still, the close finishes in Georgia as well as conservative Kansas underscored Democrats’ potential to capitalize on surging liberal energy following Mr. Trump’s election, even as they also pointed to the limits of how far Democrats can go in Republican-friendly districts.
The Kansas and Georgia races also serve notice that GOP candidates may struggle to handle Mr. Trump, who alienates many independents and even some Republicans. In fact, Mr. Trump arguably gave Mr. Ossoff his opening in the first place; Mr. Trump barely won the Georgia 6th in November and failed to win a majority, four years after Republican Mitt Romney got more than 60 percent of the presidential vote.
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 6th District of Georgia.
DuBose Porter, chairman of the Georgia Democratic Party, said the district offers the perfect setting for Democrats to prove their momentum heading into 2018. “If we can get over 50 percent in this district, we know we can do that statewide and around the country,” Mr. Porter said, mocking Republican assertions that Mr. Ossoff failed Tuesday by falling short of an outright primary victory.
“Only the Republicans could try to define this as a defeat for the Democrats,” said Mr. Porter.
At the White House, spokesman Sean Spicer tried to do exactly that. “The reaction has somewhat been, you know, that they almost won. No, they lost!” Mr. Spicer said. “They spent $8.3 million dollars and threw everything including the kitchen sink at it, and lost.”
Mr. Spicer did not mention that outside Republican groups also plowed millions into attacking Mr. Ossoff and encouraging GOP turnout; a political action committee backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan and other House GOP leaders accounted for at least $2.2 million.