Democrats couldn’t avoid a runoff in Georgia’s 6th District special election Tuesday evening, but they came remarkably close for a congressional seat that tends to favor Republicans. Now the most important question becomes whether the party can harness the anti-Trump fervor that propelled Jon Ossoff to the top of the polls into an upset victory on June 20, when it faces a Republican political machine that’s uniting behind Karen Handel.
Democrats sought to project confidence in a string of cable news appearances Wednesday morning.
In his first television interview since last night’s race was called, Ossoff brushed off questions about whether his campaign has reached the high-water mark now that he can no longer capitalize off having 17 competitors.
“We were able to build a very large grassroots organization from the bottom-up with thousands of volunteers in just a few months,” Ossoff told MSNBC. “We’re going to keep growing that grassroots energy and grassroots intensity … That is ultimately what will see us through to victory on June 20.”
The 30-year-old Democrat went from political newbie to national symbol of the anti-Trump movement in two months, amassing a jaw-dropping war chest, an army of volunteers and a pack of celebrity endorsements. But he also benefitted heavily from a fractured Republican field that split the 6th District’s sizable GOP vote.
Now that Ossoff is up against a single Republican who’s a well-known figure in the state, there’s fear on the left that he could get crushed, particularly if Democratic turnout sinks on June 20.
Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said he wasn’t worried, telling CNN that the party has the “wind at our back right now.”
“I’d rather be John Ossoff than Karen Handel right now,” he said. “We’re investing heavily in the Georgia 6 race.”
Perez announced that he would be heading to downtown Atlanta tomorrow for the Georgia Democratic Party’s state dinner to rally the troops.
Meanwhile, Republicans weren’t buying the Democrats’ optimism. In an appearance on CNN earlier Wednesday morning, Handel warned the dynamic “won’t be the same in the runoff.”
The 6th District seat “is going to stay in the hands of a Republican,” she predicted.
But David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s onetime top strategist, pointed to Handel’s arm’s length treatment of Trump as indicative of how toxic the president has become to traditionally Republican suburban districts such as Georgia’s 6th.
Republicans have “held this seat for 37 years… Now this unheralded challenger, you stop him an inch before the goal line … so it’s good, you live to fight another day, maybe you can win in overtime. But there are fundamental problems with the team and (Trump) is the problem,” he said on CNN.
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