WASHINGTON: Voters cast ballots Tuesday in the US state of Georgia, where a political novice aiming for a shock congressional upset has prompted a last-minute campaign intervention by President Donald Trump to block a tide of Democratic resistance.
Jon Ossoff, all of 30 years old, hopes to capitalize on the president’s lackluster popularity, with the congressional district suddenly in the national spotlight as Democrats seek to make the special election a litmus test of the president’s first 100 days.
“We are certainly going for an outright win here today. But a special election is special. It is difficult to predict,” Ossoff told CNN Tuesday.
Ossoff is handily leading the field of 18 candidates. If he fails to win an outright majority, the top two finishers head to a June run-off.
“It will come down to turnout. Because it’s all about turnout — the most important thing people can do is get to the polls,” he said.
A broader question is whether Ossoff’s performance might signal the rise of an anti-Trump wave that Democrats can ride in their bid to reclaim the House of Representatives, which Republicans seized in 2010.
While Ossoff stressed that the race is not about “the national political circus,” the broad implications are clearly there, as the president showed he was acutely aware.
“Liberal Democrats from outside of Georgia are spending millions and millions of dollars trying to take your Republican congressional seat away from you. Don’t let them do it,” Trump said in a robocall he recorded that went out late Monday in Georgia’s sixth district.
“If you don’t vote tomorrow, Ossoff will raise your taxes, destroy your health care and flood our country with illegal immigrants,” he warned.
He followed that up with early Tuesday tweets urging Republicans to get to the polls: “Democrat Jon Ossoff would be a disaster in Congress.”
A first-round win for Ossoff would be the first blow in what is shaping up to be a bitter, 18-month battle for control of the US Congress in the 2018 elections that come halfway through Trump’s term.
Should Ossoff prevail, it would mark a stunning embarrassment for the populist president. But the documentary filmmaker and former congressional aide has an uphill climb.
The district is in the relatively affluent and conservative suburbs of Atlanta. It has remained a Republican fortress since 1978 when it was won by Newt Gingrich, the future speaker of the House.
Ossoff is running in a special election there to replace Tom Price, who vacated his seat to become Trump’s health secretary.
Now or never?
Under normal circumstances, Republicans retaining the seat would not be in doubt. But Trump’s approval rating lags at around 40 percent in a Gallup tracking poll — a record low for an incoming president.
The latest poll, from Emerson College Polling, puts first-time candidate Ossoff at 43.1 percent — well ahead of the top four Republican candidates, none of whom is drawing more than 17 percent, but still short of the 50 percent he would need in order to avoid a second round.
Ossoff’s chances in a run-off diminish, as Republicans would likely coalesce around their candidate in the conservative-leaning district.
Emerson Polling shows Ossoff trailing in hypothetical matchups with each of the race’s four top Republicans. So Democrats see Tuesday as their best chance for victory.
Ossoff has amassed $8 million, much of it in out-of-state contributions by Democratic groups, while Republicans have raised a cumulative $4 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Part of what is fueling Democratic excitement about the race is that while Trump won Georgia by six percentage points, the sixth district supported Trump by barely one point over Hillary Clinton last November.
It has a large proportion of well-educated voters who are reliably Republican but frustrated with Trump.
Polls in the Georgia district close at 7:00 pm (2300 GMT). AFP