Political Insider

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Ossoff aims for knockout blow in Georgia special election

His Republican rivals call him “Darth Vader,” a “lightweight liberal” and a “puppet of the left.” Fellow Democrats vow to block his “coronation” and paint him as an outsider. More than $1 million has already been spent to bog down his candidacy.

Democrat Jon Ossoff has transformed the race for suburban Atlanta’s 6th Congressional District, and his soaring donations and groundswell of support from energized Democrats have fast painted a shiny target on his back as he scrambles to flip Tom Price’s ruby-red turf.

Just about every candidate in the crowded April 18 special election to represent the district, which spans from east Cobb County to north DeKalb County, has assailed the 30-year-old former congressional aide. And Republicans determined to keep a GOP stronghold are readying more attacks.

But even Ossoff’s Republican adversaries marvel about his campaign’s field operations and the more than $3 million he’s raised in 10 weeks — and worry about their own fractured field of 11 GOP candidates battling each other for their own slice of the electorate.

All 18 candidates in the race are on the same ballot, and if none get a majority of the vote, the top two vote-getters will square off in a June 20 runoff. Some worry Ossoff could win the race, upending the national debate about President Donald Trump’s popularity in one of the first votes since his election.

“If we have 65 percent of the GOP vote and spread it out over 11 candidates — do the math,” Michael Fitzgerald, the district’s GOP chairman, said in sobering remarks to Republicans at a recent forum. “The question is: Are we going to resist these outsiders taking over our district?”

Bruce LeVell, running on a pro-Trump platform, took it a giant step further, saying Ossoff embodied the very essence of evil: “His party is from the Dark Side — Darth Vader.”

Ossoff has largely stuck to his talking points, hoping to deprive Republicans of red-meat attacks. He’s pivoted toward the House GOP’s beleaguered health care plan, criticizing funding cuts to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that could hit a disease-fighting initiative.

And he and his supporters talk increasingly of landing a knockout punch: the long odds of winning the race outright in April. After all, a runoff against a unifying Republican with the full weight of the party behind him or her would neutralize many of Ossoff’s advantages.

“The only way to approach any election is to try to win it outright,” Ossoff said. “That’s what my team and I are trying to do every day.”

Read more: Republicans, Democrats target Ossoff in Georgia special election

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.