Ossoff, a political newcomer who launched his congressional campaign in the Republican-leaning northern suburbs of Atlanta by urging supporters to “make Trump furious,” now speaks in the measured tones of a moderate consensus builder and rarely mentions the president by name.
Local economic development and cutting wasteful government spending are Ossoff’s talking points in a race against Republican Karen Handel that has shattered records as the most expensive congressional contest in U.S. history. Polls show it is headed for a tight finish in Tuesday’s special election.
An Ossoff victory would rattle Republicans already nervous about next year’s congressional midterm elections, and offer Democrats a template on how to campaign in suburban swing districts as they try to erase the 24-seat Republican majority in the House of Representatives.
“It would send a very strong message across the country that we can win these kinds of seats,” said Representative Dan Kildee, a Michigan Democrat who campaigned with Ossoff in Georgia this week.
“The Dems want to stop tax cuts, good healthcare and Border Security. Their ObamaCare is dead with 100% increases in P’s. Vote now for Karen H,” the president tweeted, referring to Karen Handel, the GOP contender.
Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, is locked in a tight battle against Democrat Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old first-time candidate who lives just outside the district boundary. “Karen Handel’s opponent in #GA06 can’t even vote in the district he wants to represent,” Trump pointed out in another tweet.
Handel and Ossoff are vying to fill the seat vacated by Tom Price, who had held it since 2005, until joining Trump’s Cabinet as health and human services secretary earlier this year.
The district traditionally goes Republican, but most consider the race too close to call as voters head to the polls on Tuesday.
The latest Channel 2 Action News/Landmark Communications poll of 800 likely voters has Ossoff leading Handel 49.7 percent to 48 percent.
Both Handel and Ossoff have full schedules of events around the district on Monday and are trying to avoid talk about the national attention and money spent on the race.
Ossoff is seeking support from moderate voters with ads focused on the economy and national spending, while Handel is focusing on her experience as Georgia secretary of state.
That reality, on display in this week’s campaigns, threatens to make it that much tougher to hold together an already-fractious GOP coalition elsewhere in the country as 2018 contests take shape.
“Every Republican running is going to have to deal with that dynamic. I don’t see any way around it,” said Chip Lake, a veteran Georgia Republican strategist. “Donald Trump is a very powerful figure. He elicits very powerful opinions, very strong opinions and emotions, not only on both sides of the political spectrum, meaning R versus D, but he elicits very strong emotions and opinions on the Republican side.”
Handel hasn’t always shied away from Trump. She welcomed his support in April, after finishing second in the first round of voting in the special election to replace now-Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Trump later held a fundraiser for her and has frequently praised her candidacy against Democrat Jon Ossoff.
“People can read a tweet or they can’t read a tweet,” Norman, a deeply conservative former state representative, told McClatchy in an interview late last week. “If they don’t want to receive it, they don’t have to. He’s got millions of followers. I see no problem with it.”
Norman’s strong defense of the president reflects a conservative base that is still staunchly in the president’s corner despite a barrage of bad headlines over everything from a possible obstruction of justice investigation to a paucity, so far, of significant legislative achievements.