In Tuesday's closely-watched special election to fill Georgia's 6th District U.S. House seat, the outsider Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff stunned Republicans by winning nearly 50 percent of the vote, sending him to a June runoff election against GOP frontrunner Karen Handel.
"There is no doubt that this is already a victory for the ages," Ossoff said after the results came in. "We have defied the odds, we have shattered expectations, so bring it on."
"Jon Ossoff's first-place finish in ruby-red Georgia shows the huge opportunities for progressive candidates across the country."
—Adam Green, Progressive Change Campaign Committee
With the field split between 18 candidates, Ossoff captured 48.3 percent of the vote with 88 precincts reporting, according to the Guardian. Handel finished a distant second.
While Ossoff had hoped to avert a runoff, his decisive first-place finish in the right-wing district—the seat was previously held by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price—was hailed as a victory by progressives nationwide, and a sign of the strength of the Democratic challenges to come during the 2018 midterms. The election has long been considered a bellwether of the popular resistance to President Donald Trump.
"Jon Ossoff's first-place finish in ruby-red Georgia shows the huge opportunities for progressive candidates across the country—from Tom Perriello for Governor in Virginia to Rob Quist for Congress in Montana," commented Adam Green, Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) co-founder, in a statement. "Ossoff showed what's possible when a campaign taps into the huge grassroots energy of the Resistance."
"Tonight's powerful result will build momentum toward electing progressive candidates across the country," said Friends of the Earth Action's senior political strategist Ben Schreiber in a statement. "We hope tonight's landslide will encourage the Democratic Party to support progressive candidates that are capable of defeating Trump and his enablers."
The advocacy group the Latino Victory Fund added: "With 18 candidates splitting the vote in a historically ruby red district, Ossoff's strong first place finish is a big win and testament to the hard work the resistencia invested in this race. It's clear that he'll be a strong competitor in the runoff, and we are confident that his positions on the issues that matter most to our community will help him win in June."
As Ossoff and his supporters now focus attention on the June runoff vote, observers note that Handel comes with baggage that could help channel resistance efforts against her campaign. As Vice President of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a breast cancer research organization, Handel in 2012 pushed for the group's controversial (and since reversed) decision to pull funding from Planned Parenthood.
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"Handel's strategy to cut off Planned Parenthood involved drafting new guidelines that would prevent Komen from funding any organization that was under investigation by local, state, or federal authorities" in an attempt to make the decision look apolitical, reported the Huffington Post at the time.
"Karen Handel was the prime instigator of this effort," said an unnamed inside source to the Huffington Post. Handel was forced to step down for her role in the controversy.
And with women in many ways leading the resistance to Trump, there could be no better moment for Ossoff to win a runoff against an anti-women's healthcare candidate such as Handel, observed the author David Dayen on Twitter:
— David Dayen (@ddayen) April 19, 2017
Local pundit Jay Bookman explored in detail in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the various factors at play in the 6th District, and how the GOP's actions in Washington as well as Handel's history might play out in the upcoming runoff vote:
If the narrative between now and June is still White House incompetence and infighting, if congressional Republicans continue to prove themselves incapable of governance, then Republican enthusiasm back here in Georgia will continue to suffer and the door will creak open for Ossoff. What happens to health care, for example? Do Republicans revive their deeply unpopular replacement plan, forcing Handel to either embrace or reject it? What happens in the minefield of foreign policy?
By late this month, Republican leaders in the House and Senate will also have to find some way to raise the debt ceiling and continue to fund government operations, which is a basic duty of the governing party. One of the critical questions in that debate will be continued federal funding of the family-planning and women's health operations of Planned Parenthood, and a government shutdown over that issue is quite plausible.
I doubt that would play well in the highly educated 6th District, where health-care delivery is a major industry. It also summons all kinds of bad memories for Handel, with complications that are impossible to predict. It could yet be a political disaster narrowly averted, or it could be a victory for the ages.
"Democracy," commented Bookman, "this is what it feels like, and we don't get enough of it."