DUNWOODY, Ga. — A Georgia congressional election is headed to a high-stakes runoff that’s shaping up as a referendum on President Trump ahead of crucial midterm elections next year.
Democrat Jon Ossoff, a little-known 30-year-old former congressional staffer, fell a few percentage points shy of an outright victory Tuesday amid an 18-candidate scramble in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. His strong showing in the conservative district, driven by eye-popping fundraising numbers from out-of-state donors, underscored Democrats’ eagerness to get a win against Trump as they strive to take back House control in 2018.
Republican Karen Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, finished a distant second in the crowded field, qualifying for the June 20 runoff.
Handel treated Trump gingerly throughout the campaign in a district he barely won in November. But the president called to congratulate her Wednesday morning, and Handel said she hoped he would come to campaign for her.
“I would hope so,” Handel said on CNN. “I mean look, all Republicans, it’s all hands on deck for us.”
Trump had attacked Ossoff in recent days and took to Twitter again Wednesday morning to crow 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.
The close outcomes in conservative Kansas and Georgia underscored Democrats’ potential to capitalize on surging liberal energy following Trump’s election, but also pointed to the limits of how far they can go in Republican-friendly districts. Republicans hold a 237-193 majority in the House so Democrats would need to pick up more than 20 seats to retake control in the 2018 midterm, an uphill climb. Another special election is in Montana next month.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez insisted Democrats have the momentum in the Georgia race, and made clear his party will not be shy about tying Handel to Trump.
“She’s the person who supports Donald Trump’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. I wonder if Donald Trump and she are going to campaign on that issue in her district,” Perez said on CNN.
“We have a lot of wind at our back. The progressive energy out there is palpable,” he added.
The winner in Georgia will succeed Republican Tom Price, who resigned the seat to join Trump’s administration as health secretary. Leaders in both major parties agree the race offers a prime test run for 2018 elections, because the affluent, well-educated Georgia district is replete with the kind of voters Democrats must attract to reclaim a House majority.