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Democrat Advances in Georgia's 'Trump Referendum' Special Election


Democratic candidate for Georgia's Sixth Congressional Seat Jon Ossoff speaks to supporters during an election-night watch party, April 18, 2017, in Dunwoody, Georgia.

Democrats claimed a partial victory over President Donald Trump, as first-time candidate Jon Ossoff secured enough votes Tuesday in Georgia's traditionally Republican 6th Congressional District to advance to a June run-off election.

The contest for the seat, vacated by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, gained national attention as a referendum on the first 100 days of the Trump presidency. Vote tallies for the incredibly close race ran into the night as Ossoff told supporters the fight would go on if he did not secure the 50 percent+1 vote majority needed to win outright.

“We have defied the odds, we have shattered expectations. We are changing the world and your voices are going to ring out across this state and across this country,” he said late Tuesday.

President Trump saw the close contest very differently, tweeting just moments later that “Despite major outside money, FAKE media support and eleven Republican candidates, BIG ‘R’ win with runoff in Georgia.”

The president weighed in on the high-stakes election earlier Tuesday, predicting “Ossoff would be a disaster in Congress. VERY weak on crime and illegal immigration, bad for jobs and wants higher taxes. Say NO.”

In the hours before polls opened, Trump also recorded a last-minute phone appeal to district voters, saying “only you can stop the super-liberal Democrat.”

But Ossoff had help from an extraordinary $8.3 million nationwide fundraising haul and an army of volunteers looking for an opportunity to beat Trump.

“We've got progressive people very angry and worried about Trump's policies, and this is the only race that's on the national stage right now,” Jen Cox, founder of the activist group Pave it Blue, told VOA at a rally last week.

The special election was seen as an early test of anti-Trump sentiment and the president's ability to retain the loyalty of Republican voters. Activists and party donors still hurting from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's 2016 election loss saw an opportunity in the traditionally Republican district that Trump won by only one point in 2016.

Even though the Georgia 6th is wealthier and better-educated than most congressional districts, a win here could provide Democrats with a blueprint to take control of Congress in 2018's mid-term elections.

Ossoff's early fundraising appeals encouraged voters to “Make Trump Furious.” But he told VOA earlier this month that Georgia 6th voters were far more concerned about economic issues than ideological tests.

“This campaign no matter what the national press says is about local solutions before it's about
national politics,” Ossoff said.

Republican candidate for Georgia's Sixth Congressional seat Karen Handel speaks at an election night watch party in Roswell, Georgia, April 18, 2017.
Republican candidate for Georgia's Sixth Congressional seat Karen Handel speaks at an election night watch party in Roswell, Georgia, April 18, 2017.

Republican field

Tuesday's election also narrowed the crowded field of eleven Republican candidates down to just one: moderate Republican Karen Handel, who is heavily favored to win in a district that hasn't sent a Democrat to Congress since 1979.

Despite his late involvement in the race, President Trump never endorsed a Republican candidate.

Now that the choice is directly between Handel and Ossoff, Trump could get more directly involved in rallying district voters with a trip to Georgia.

“Donald Trump coming to town could be the biggest thing to happen to congressional elections in years,” said Todd Rehm, a Republican strategist and founder of the blog GeorgiaPundit.com, told VOA. “At its core, the 6th is still a 60 percent Republican district.”

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    Katherine Gypson

    Katherine Gypson is a reporter for VOA’s News Center in Washington, D.C.  Prior to joining VOA in 2013, Katherine produced documentary and public affairs programming in Afghanistan, Tunisia and Turkey. She also produced and co-wrote a 12-episode road-trip series for Pakistani television exploring the United States during the 2012 presidential election. She holds a Master’s degree in Journalism from American University. Follow her @kgyp

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