U.S. political figures, including President Donald Trump, are watching for the outcome Tuesday of a special congressional election in the southern state of Georgia, to see whether there is any groundswell of sentiment emerging against his three-month tenure in the White House.
Trump has not campaigned for any of the 11 Republicans running in the election, being contested in a relatively affluent and conservative district in the suburbs of a major city, Atlanta. It is a seat Republicans have held in the House of Representatives since 1978.
But Trump joined the fray on Twitter as voting started, attacking the leading contender in the 18-candidate field, Democratic political newcomer Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker and former congressional aide.
Democrat Jon Ossoff would be a disaster in Congress. VERY weak on crime and illegal immigration, bad for jobs and wants higher taxes. Say NO— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2017
Trump said it "will be a win" for Republicans if Ossoff is forced into a June 20 runoff if he doesn't garner the necessary 50 percent of the vote in Tuesday's balloting to claim the seat. If he finishes first, but with less than a majority vote, Ossoff would face the second-place finisher in two months, likely a Republican.
"Force runoff and easy win!" Trump declared.
The seat is vacant with the resignation of its long-time Republican congressman, Tom Price, who left Congress when Trump named him as his health and human services chief.
Special elections like the one Tuesday often draw far fewer voters than is normal when there are other contests on the ballot, such as for president or a statewide vote for a Senate seat. But the large field of candidates and the contentious start of Trump's four-year presidency has boosted interest in the outcome 19 months ahead of congressional contests across the U.S. More than $14 million has been spent on advertising in the race.
Trump's approval ratings in national polls are among the lowest ever recorded for U.S. presidents for their first months in office, giving Democrats renewed hope they could capture a congressional seat with Ossoff and embarrass the new president.
Ossoff made one appeal for campaign financing to "Make Trump Furious," but since then, in an appeal to local voters, has declared that the race is more about local economic issues "before it is about the national political circus."