WASHINGTON — Voters went to the polls Tuesday in a special election in Georgia where a novice Jewish politician is the favorite to win and, many Democrats hope, become the harbinger of a growing anti-Trump movement.
The congressional race to succeed former Georgia Rep. Tom Price (R), who was selected by US President Donald Trump to serve as secretary of health and human services, has been receiving national attention for what many believe will be its larger implications in the 2018 midterm elections.
Leading the crowded field of 18 candidates battling to head to Capitol Hill is Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker and former congressional aide.
The neophyte politician — he has never held elected office — has ran on an unambiguous and unequivocal anti-Trump message. His slogan to woo voters: “Make Trump Furious.”
He may have already accomplished that goal. As polling gives him a heavy lead, the president has already gone on attack mode against him.
“Democrat Jon Ossoff would be a disaster in Congress,” Trump tweeted early Tuesday. “VERY weak on crime and illegal immigration, bad for jobs and wants higher taxes. Say NO.”
Trump also sent a recorded audio message in a robocall to district voters. “Liberal Democrats from outside of Georgia are spending millions and millions of dollars trying to take your Republican congressional seat away from you,” he said. “Don’t let them do it.”
Ossoff’s lead in the polls is something of a surprise and a worrying sign for Republicans, who, for the last 39 years, have had few reasons to worry about Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, an affluent and quiet suburban area just outside of Atlanta.
Since 1978, that House seat has been held by a Republican, including former House speaker Newt Gingrich, none of whom has had to fight too hard against their Democratic opponents in the general election.
But last week, an Emerson College survey showed Ossoff with 43 percent support from likely voters, while the closest candidate behind him, former Georgia secretary of state Karen Handel, polled at 17%.
Right now, that’s not enough for Ossoff — who is of Russian Jewish and Lithuanian Jewish descent — to claim victory. The special election rules require the winning candidate to receive a majority of votes.
“We are certainly going for an outright win here today. But a special election is special. It is difficult to predict,” Ossoff said Tuesday on CNN.
“It will come down to turnout. Because it’s all about turnout — the most important thing people can do is get to the polls.”
Ossoff, who is leading a field of 18 candidates, also tried to lessen the perception that he is spearheading the anti-Trump charge, saying that the race is about local economic issues “before it is about the national political circus.”
“Everyone is looking for national implications, but all politics is local,” he said.
If no candidate crosses the 51% threshold, the top two vote-getters will move on to a runoff election on June 20.
Ossoff is well-poised for a longer campaign. So far, he has raised more than $8.3 million in campaign donations, mostly from out-of-state contributors.
The Georgetown University graduate has unquestionably benefited from the help of celebrities seeking to bolster his campaign.
The Hollywood actor Samuel L. Jackson released has helped out Ossoff, urging voters to show up and defy the current president.
“Remember what happened the last time people stayed home,” he said in one radio ad. “We got stuck with Trump. We have to channel the great vengeance and furious anger we have for this administration into votes at the ballot box.”
The line “great vengeance and furious anger” is an allusion to a famous monologue he delivered in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film “Pulp Fiction.”
National GOP groups have launched their own attacks as well. The Congressional Leadership Fund, which is aligned with the Republican Party, has spent more than $2 million in negative ads against Ossoff.
The Georgia contest comes a week after another special election in Kansas’s Fourth Congressional District, in which Republican Ron Estes squeaked by his Democratic opponent James Thompson. Ordinarily, a GOP candidate would face little challenge in the Midwestern conservative area.
That election was held to replace former Rep. Mike Pompeo, Trump’s new director of the Central Intelligence Agency.