Wednesday 22 November 2017

Democrat youth v Republican experience as Georgia race finally heads to voters

Jon Ossoff, Democratic candidate for Georgia's 6th Congressional District (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Jon Ossoff, Democratic candidate for Georgia's 6th Congressional District (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Karen Handel, Republican candidate for Georgia's 6th Congressional District (AP Photo/David Goldman)

The most expensive House race in US history is heading to voters in the northern suburbs of Atlanta on Tuesday.

Either Republican Karen Handel will claim a seat that has been in her party's hands since 1979 or Democrat Jon Ossoff will manage an upset that will rattle Washington ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections.

Their clash in Georgia's 6th Congressional District has become a proxy for the national political atmosphere and a test of GOP strength early in Donald Trump's presidency.

Mr Ossoff led an April primary but fell just short of an outright victory, sending an already costly race into a two-month run-off campaign.

Mr Trump barely won the district in November, giving Democrats an opening once Republican Tom Price resigned the seat to join the president's Cabinet as health secretary.

Here are five things worth knowing about the race:

IT'S OSSOFF'S YOUTH v HANDEL'S EXPERIENCE

Jon Ossoff is a 30-year-old former congressional staffer turned documentary film-maker. Making his first bid for office, he has become a symbol of the Trump opposition movement.

Yet he barely mentions the president, talking instead in generalities about "restoring civility" and the importance of Congress as an oversight body. He does not constantly refer to Ms Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, directly either, instead pitching his "fresh leadership" against "career politicians".

Ms Handel, 55, embraces her experience as a statewide and local elected official. "You know me," she says, adding often that Mr Ossoff has "no record" and "inflates his resume".

She is also known as a Susan G Komen Foundation executive when the organisation in 2012 sought to cut off its support of Planned Parenthood, which provides services including abortions.

IT'S A TRUMP DISTRICT ... BARELY

The Georgia 6th is an affluent and well-educated district that has elected Newt Gingrich, the former speaker; Johnny Isakson, now Georgia's senior US senator; and most recently Tom Price, who resigned in February to join the administration.

But even with that pedigree, Mr Trump barely edged Democrat Hillary Clinton in November, giving Mr Ossoff his opening once Mr Price was confirmed. Mr Ossoff hopes to maximise the district's Democratic base and pick up just enough independents and moderate Republicans who do not align with Mr Trump.

Ms Handel has handled Mr Trump gingerly. She barely mentioned him ahead of finishing second to Mr Ossoff in an April primary. She welcomed him for a fundraiser in late April, but it was closed.

Even a Trump Cabinet member and former Georgia governor, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, acknowledged the conundrum at a recent Handel rally, saying "some Republicans" are "turned off" by the president.

THERE'S BIG MONEY, FROM EVERYWHERE

Mr Ossoff raised more than 23 million US dollars, most from outside Georgia. He emphasises that it is mostly from individual donors. Ms Handel notes that many of those people live in Democratic-leaning states like California, New York and Massachusetts.

Ms Handel has also benefited from outside money, but it just has not flowed through her campaign, which has raised less than a quarter of Mr Ossoff's haul.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, has spent 7 million US dollars on her behalf. National Republicans' House campaign arm added 4.5 million US dollars, and the USChamber of Commerce chipped in another seven figures. A chunk of the 5 million US dollars Ms Handel raised herself came in three fundraisers headlined by Mr Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan.

AHEAD OF 2018, BOTH PARTIES REALLY WANT TO WIN

Democrats have plenty of energy nationally, but it has not translated to the electoral scoreboard.

The party needs to flip at least 24 GOP-held seats by next November to reclaim a House majority.

Party insiders say Georgia is not a must-win given the GOP advantages here, but winning in a district like this could put them on their way to a successful 2018, and it would embolden donors and volunteers nationally - and potentially boost candidate recruiting in friendlier districts.

Losing would raise questions about whether Democrats can turn protests and fundraising records into enough votes.

For Republicans, it is about defence, with a healthy dose of fear.

Winning in this once-safe GOP district would follow House special election victories this year in GOP-held districts in Kansas and Montana. Republicans are favoured to hold a fourth seat up Tuesday in South Carolina, while Democrats already held their lone open seat in a California special election.

But if Ms Handel loses, it will be a clear warning sign to House Republicans facing tough races in other suburban districts across the country, many of them among the 23 GOP-held seats where Mr Trump trailed Mrs Clinton in 2016. And it will make all the clearer that there is no easy path for Republicans to run under Mr Trump's banner - he is still popular with the base, but the base is not large enough to win every seat that Republicans hold now.

THERE'S ONE LAST-MINUTE CURVEBALL, BUT IT MAY NOT MATTER

A little-known political action committee unveiled a last-minute ad trying to link Mr Ossoff to the shooting of a Republican House leader and others at a GOP congressional baseball team practice last week outside Washington.

Ms Handel disavowed the ad, which blames the "violent left" for the shooting and suggests such acts would continue if Mr Ossoff wins. Mr Ossoff called Steve Scalise's shooting a "national tragedy" that should not be politicised.

Principled PAC says it made a "five-figure" buy on Fox News, a low spending total on cable news that likely means the spot got more attention from the campaign and reporters than from voters.

AP

Press Association

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editors Choice

Also in World News