In Jon Ossoff’s bid to crack 50%, a ‘2%’ candidate could loom large

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David Abroms speaks at a Sixth District forum in Marietta in March. Henry Taylor, henry.taylor@ajc.com

For very sound reasons, Democrat Jon Ossoff would like to win the Sixth District congressional contest outright next Tuesday, without a runoff in June that would give a Republican rival time to regroup.

Ossoff has raised an amazing $8.3 million in hopes of accomplishing the feat, and has spent most of it. Republicans in Washington, acknowledging the possibility, have dropped millions of dollars to thwart Ossoff’s promise to make President Donald Trump “furious.”

Breaking the 50 percent barrier when you’re one of 18 candidates is hard enough. For a Democrat to do so in a district that has gone Republican since Newt Gingrich was (somewhat) liberal is more daunting still.

In fact, Ossoff’s margin for error is so small that his fate could be decided not by the several “drain the swamp” Republicans who are chasing him, but by the one GOP candidate who could call himself an anti-Trump Republican. If he chose to.

On his best days, polls have shown David Abroms, a Sandy Springs businessman, with 2 percent of the Sixth District vote. That’s a small sliver – but an important sliver if you’re a Democrat who wants to make Trump furious by luring disaffected independents and Republicans to your side.

“I’m not running a campaign against President Trump, or against Hillary Clinton,” Abroms said this week, during an interview at a Dunwoody hotel. But he is the only Republican in the contest who has publicly said that he didn’t cast his presidential vote for Trump last November.

Independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin answers questions during an interview with AJC reporters in Atlanta last October. Curtis Compton, ccompton@ajc.com

Who did Abroms vote for? Probably the fellow who sat next to him. Evan McMullin was there for a campaign meet-and-greet.

You’ll remember McMullin as the former CIA guy and congressional staffer from Utah who ran a makeshift, independent campaign as a conservative alternative to Trump. McMullin won 13,017 write-in votes in Georgia. That includes 3,528 cast throughout Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties. The Sixth is made up of only a portion of each county.

That’s not a winning constituency. But in the right circumstance, those votes and a few more could serve as spoilers.

Abroms and McMullin met through a shared political consultant, Joel Searby. The Sixth is one of four congressional contests created by Trump’s cabinet choices, but it’s the only one that McMullin is dipping into.

“Technically, I’m still a registered independent. But other than voting for myself, I’ve never voted for anyone who wasn’t a Republican,” McMullin said. “I’m still hopeful the Republican party will be a good vehicle for true conservatives in this country.”

McMullin and Abroms have more in common than a political consultant. Both are ready to call an end to the war on gay marriage. “It’s been decided, and it’s not an issue that I wish to pursue in congress. We have so many serious problems to tackle in this country,” Abroms said. “I think it’s a distraction.”

Both men eschew the party tribalism that has crippled Congress, pointing to Obamacare and failed Republican efforts to repeal it.

“Apparently we’re living in a world where the only way you can pass legislation is if you’re in the majority. And that is a world that I do not want to live in,” Abroms said. “I think we need a different process.”

Ossoff has headed up a London-based, international documentary production company whose work has appeared on Al Jazeera TV. When Republicans in Washington launched a TV attack that linked the Democrat to “a mouthpiece for terrorism,” Abroms was the only Republican to object.

“I’m not afraid of the political bosses or insiders trying to bully me into this or that,” he said.

Abroms also has an abiding interest in new energy – one of his companies converts gasoline-powered fleet cars to natural gas. At a recent debate, I asked him what he thought of Trump’s promise to bring back coal jobs. “Coal is a technology of the past. I’m not per se against coal. I just think we need to be more forward looking,” Abroms said.

None of these positions has made Abroms an automatic Sixth District favorite among Republicans. But he draws a second lesson. None of his anti-Trump predilections have made him a GOP pariah, either.

Former secretary of state Karen Handel and former state senator Dan Moody, who are “more traditional Republicans,” are doing well, Abroms noted. The GOP candidates who have tied themselves most closely to Trump are the ones that are struggling.

“I don’t think being a hardcore, ‘I’ll follow Trump whatever he wants to do’ candidate has been a successful strategy,” Abroms said.

This could be the tallest obstacle standing between Jon Ossoff and his Tuesday bid to leap over the 50 percent barrier.

If you want to make Trump furious, Ossoff may be your candidate. But if you simply want to annoy the guy in the White House, you have plenty of other, suitably Republican choices. Abroms is only one of many.


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