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Georgia race, litmus test for Trump, goes down to wire

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ATLANTA, GA – APRIL 18: Supporters of Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff wait for election returns in the race for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District in a special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services on April 18, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The winner of the race would fill a congressional seat that has been held by a Republican since the 1970s. Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP JOE RAEDLE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

A US congressional race in a traditionally conservative district turned into a cliffhanger late Tuesday, with a young Democrat jostling for a win that would hit President Donald Trump like a political tidal wave.

Jon Ossoff, 30, was coasting to a first-place finish in Tuesday’s special election in Georgia’s sixth district, which Democrats hope will serve as an early test of the national strength of an anti-Trump resistance movement.

The race is an open primary, so if the Democrat finishes with more than 50 percent of the vote, he avoids a run-off and secures outright victory.

“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.

Five hours after polls closed, Ossoff was clinging to 50.3 percent support, with just over half of the precincts in the district reporting.

Falling short of an outright majority — as he appears likely to do, with more conservative parts of the district outstanding — means he heads to a second round on June 20, most likely against Republican Karen Handel, the state’s former secretary of state.

It will be a steeper challenge for Ossoff, as Handel will almost certainly benefit from her party coalescing around a single candidate in a conservative leaning district.

Democrats have hoped that Ossoff could capitalize on Trump’s lackluster popularity and make the race a litmus test of the president’s first 100 days.

A shock upset in the national spotlight, the argument goes, would deeply embarrass the president and could jumpstart a political revolution aimed at retaking control of the House of Representatives in next year’s mid-term elections.

The Ossoff threat clearly caught Trump’s attention.

“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 that went out late Monday.

He warned that if Republicans stayed home and Ossoff won, the Democrat would “flood our country with illegal immigrants.”

Trump followed that up with a barrage of tweets against Ossoff, saying he would be “a disaster in Congress.”

Ossoff is running in a special election to replace Tom Price, who vacated his seat to become Trump’s health secretary.

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, who would become speaker of the House.

– Big trouble? –

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.

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.

Regardless of the final outcome, some Democrats were already proclaiming a moral victory.

“Regardless of whether he hits 50%, @ossoff is showing that Republicans are in BIG TROUBLE with voters all across the country right now!” tweeted House Democrat David Cicilline.


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