In the closely-watched race for Georgia's sixth district, said to be the first test of whether backlash against President Donald Trump will propel Democratic candidates to seize traditionally conservative seats, documentary filmmaker Jon Ossoff continues to gain ground, putting the GOP on the offensive in other pivotal local contests.
After 10 days of early voting for Georgia's special election to fill the House of Representatives seat vacated by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Democratic voters substantially outpaced Republicans, New York Times' Upshot reporter Nate Cohn observed this weekend.
Day 11 of in-person ev in GA-6 is D 49, R 29. Highest turnout yet on Cobb Cty new site vt
Over all, D 51, R 31 with 21111 ballots accepted pic.twitter.com/mJhAfeHBR4
— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) April 9, 2017
Ossoff announced last week that he raised an astounding $8.3 million, which NPR notes has "allowed him to dwarf his opponents on air and build an impressive field organization that's put him just within reach of winning with a majority outright on April 18—a nearly unthinkable feat in an 18-candidate field."
"I've never seen the Democrats around here so engaged, and it's Donald Trump who got us so engaged," Carolyn Hadaway, a veteran Democratic Party activist from Marietta, Georgia, told Reuters.
And as the candidate himself said during a recent interview the Washington Post: "The grassroots intensity here is electric, and it's because folks are concerned that what is happening in Washington doesn't represent our values...This is a chance for this community to stand up and make a statement about what we believe."
As Reuters reported Monday:
Grassroots Democratic groups flood the district's tidy suburban neighborhoods on the weekends, busing in volunteers from as far away as Maryland to go door to door on Ossoff's behalf.
The Ossoff momentum worries Republicans, say party officials, and outside help has arrived. A super PAC aligned with House Republican leaders put more than $2 million into ads painting Ossoff as too young and inexperienced.
Further, the Post noted:
Georgia Republican Party mailers darkly warn about Ossoff's work for the Qatar-funded Al Jazeera TV network. (The mailers print the network's Arabic name on a black background, resembling the flag of ISIS.) The National Rifle Association warns, in drawling radio ads, that Democrats want to "steal this election and your freedom."
The NRA advertisement was deemed so misleading that one local radio station was forced to edit out one of the statements attacking Ossoff as an outsider, according to the Daily Kos, which, it should be noted, is supporting the candidate with a national fundraising effort.
Ossoff's national supporters are also getting in on the media blitz. The pro-democracy group End Citizens United is launching an online advertising campaign this week that will promote Ossoff as a candidate who will "help end the rigged campaign-finance system, taking on special interests and calling out pay to play in Washington."
MoveOn.org Political Action on Monday began running television and digital advertisements in Georgia as part of a six-figure campaign focused specifically on Ossoff's support for maintaining and improving the Affordable Care Act, which the GOP recently tried to dismantle.
"Ossoff is the sort of progressive champion—strong on both racial justice and economic justice—who can channel resistance movement energy into progressive volunteers and votes, and Republicans have done him a big favor with their efforts to repeal the ACA and kick tens of millions of people off of their health care," said Anna Galland, interim executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action, in a press statement.
Additionally, the Ledger-Enquirer reported that "House Majority PAC, a super PAC with ties to House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California, last week announced its own digital ad aimed at getting Democratic voters to the polls."
That surge of national attention on regional politics appears to be playing out elsewhere. On Tuesday, Kansas is holding a special election to replace Trump's CIA Director Mike Pompeo. NPR reported Monday that this "previously sleepy race" now has the national Republican Party "sending in their cavalry":
Unlike the Georgia district up for grabs next week, the 4th Congressional District in Kansas, which includes Wichita, is one Trump won comfortably by 27 points. But the race has largely flown under the radar, and Republicans worry their base may not show up for GOP nominee Rob Estes, the state treasurer.
So in the eleventh hour, Republicans are now sending in their cavalry. The National Republican Congressional Committee went up with an ad last week hitting Democratic nominee James Thompson on his position on abortion rights, Vice President Pence has recorded a robo-call on Estes' behalf and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz—who won Kansas big in the state's presidential caucuses last year—will campaign with Estes on Monday.
"That's still an unlikely outcome," NPR observes, "but if Democrats keep the race in ruby red Kansas close, it could give them more momentum and optimism heading into Georgia the following week."
Similarly, the under-the-radar May 25 U.S. House race in Montana to replace now-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is gaining traction as Rob Quist—described as a "legendary banjo-strumming folk singer with a populist streak and a penchant for public service"—is drawing hundreds to his rallies.
Sen. Bernie Sanders has blessed Quist with his endorsement and has offered to campaign on his behalf. In a recent interview with Huffpo's Ryan Grim, Sanders said: "My impression is [Quist]'s a very strong candidate who stands up for working people, understands that we need a government that represents all of us and not the one percent. So if we can be of help to Quist, happy to do that as well."
Keeping track of regional contests to gauge if any Trump backlash has translated into local wins, the Huffington Post on Monday published an analysis of the special elections, which will be updated throughout the year. "As of April 10," HuffPo notes, "there have been 15 special elections for state house and senate seats since Nov. 9, 2016. Between now and November 2017, there will be special elections for 32 more state legislature seats, five U.S. House seats and one U.S. Senate seat."
Flippable, an organization of former Hillary Clinton campaigners that is trying to channel national anti-Trump momentum to turn red districts blue, has put together resources for other local contests. "Jon Ossoff has gotten amazing support from all 50 states," the group tweeted last week. "That same energy is needed in other state & federal races."
Overall, the Hill reported Monday that "Democrats need to net 24 seats [in the 2018 primaries] to regain the majority [in the U.S. House]— although that number could change depending on the outcome of five special elections."
"If President Trump's popularity remains where it is, that's going to be a really hard thing for Republicans to run on," an unnamed former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) told the outlet.
"The number of opportunities the Democrats have may be smaller [than in 2006]," the aid continued, "but there’s still a pathway to win the majority."