Georgia special election: Hard-fought House race in suburban Atlanta comes to an end as a referendum on Trump – Washington Post

 In World
Thousands of voters in the suburbs north of Atlanta grabbed the country’s attention Tuesday as a special congressional election neared its end as a referendum on President Trump.

Polls in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District opened at 7 a.m. on a humid morning, with commuters casting ballots with iced coffees in their hands on their way to child-care centers, office parks and downtown Atlanta.

Back in Washington, party leaders — and Trump — were paying close attention to what has become the most expensive House race in history, hoping to make the case by day’s end that they were better positioned to jump-start Trump’s stalled agenda on Capitol Hill — or thwart it.

“KAREN HANDEL FOR Congress,” Trump tweeted as day broke Tuesday, touting the Republican candidate and former Georgia secretary of state. “She will fight for lower taxes, great health care strong security — a hard worker who will never give up! VOTE TODAY!”

Democrats spoke excitedly about Democrat Jon Ossoff, 30, a polished former congressional staffer who has raised more than $23 million and built a devoted grass-roots following, all while courting Republicans by bemoaning “wasteful” spending. They see his competitive candidacy in ruby-red suburbia as a possible harbinger ahead of next year’s midterm elections, when Democrats need to win 24 GOP-held seats to reclaim the House majority.

Karen Handel, Republican candidate for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, greets diners during a campaign stop at Old Hickory House in Tucker, Ga., on Monday. The race between Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff is seen as a political test for President Trump. (David Goldman/AP)

The race also could have a more immediate impact on Trump’s priorities. Republicans are laboring to agree on legislation to revise the Affordable Care Act. A GOP win on Tuesday could bring new momentum to their push to pass a bill in the Senate, while a defeat could embolden those who are concerned about the bill to more forcefully oppose it.

Handel and Ossoff are vying to fill the seat vacated by Tom Price, who held it from 2005 until he joined Trump’s Cabinet this year as health and human services secretary.

A record turnout is expected: About 120,000 people have already voted, according to Georgia officials — nearly a quarter of registered voters here.

In another early tweet, Trump took a swipe at Ossoff’s centrist positioning and dismissed him as a liberal who “wants to raise your taxes to the highest level and is weak on crime and security, doesn’t even live in district.” Ossoff lives just outside the district with his fiancee.

Despite the contest’s national sheen and implications, many voters here said they will make their decision based less on Trump and more on how they view the two candidates, whose salvos have inundated televisions in a clash that has grown bitter and tense.

That dynamic could complicate the import that this race will carry beyond Tuesday. Special elections are often seen as instant microcosms of the national mood, but they are not always indicative of coming political waves.

Strategists on both sides note that the amount of resources and attention this race has received cannot be replicated across the map.

(Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

“The likelihood is the margin is going to be one or two points either way, so it is very easy to over-interpret the outcome,” said Matt Bennett, senior vice president of the centrist Democratic organization Third Way. “But a 20-point swing in a House vote between November and June — that’s a lot.”

In this race, Trump has been everywhere and nowhere. Both contenders have mostly avoided talking about him at length in the final days. Handel has focused on turning out establishment, Trump-wary Republicans with classic GOP appeals, while Ossoff has talked up his willingness to be a bipartisan voice.

“As I’ve gone door-to-door for Jon, I’ve been speaking mom-to-mom on issues like health care, not about Trump,” Jennifer Wilson, 52, a school counselor, said as she gathered with fellow volunteers Monday in nearby Roswell for Ossoff’s election eve event.

Wilson said Ossoff’s age, as well as GOP attacks on his residency, have been hurdles.

“Some people say, ‘Oh, he’s only 30.’ But I tell them that Jon is someone who understands the area,” she said. “He grew up here and wants what they want: to bring high-tech and bio-tech jobs to our community.”

On Monday night, Ossoff never mentioned Trump once, even as TV trucks parked outside the shopping center where his campaign office is located and cable channels took the scene live in prime time. Homemade posters on the wall — scribbled in thick strokes with the slogan “Humble. Kind. Ready to fight” — did not mention Trump, either.

Ossoff — standing before a raucous crowd of hundreds, his sleeves rolled up — spoke passionately about women’s rights, gay rights and the urgency of addressing of climate change. He knocked “those cynics in Washington, D.C.”

“There are people across this district, across this state, across this country who have lost faith,” Ossoff said, his voice quieting. “In this room, right now, is the team that can help to begin to restore that faith.”

Volunteers chanted, “Flip the 6th! Flip the 6th!” and waved blue signs in the air as Ossoff and his fiancee, Alisha Kramer, shook hands as they left.

“It’s a huge moment,” Mike Magallenes, 67, said as he looked on. A retired carpenter who lives in San Diego, he flew here over the weekend to offer Ossoff his time and perhaps witness a Democratic upset.

“I want to send a message even if that’s not what this is all about,” he said. “It’s got to start somewhere. Win or lose, it’s got to be the start.”

Steve Levine, 60, a salesman from Marietta, said Ossoff’s chances would be tied to turnout in cities such as Chamblee in the district’s southern tier, which is home to many younger and minority voters.

“The suburbs of Atlanta are changing dramatically,” Levine said. “Chamblee and other spots have significant Asian and Hispanic communities. They’re full of people who have moved here from all around America.”

Other Democrats worried that the district’s Republican voters would come around on Tuesday, even as Trump’s controversies cause headaches.

“Karen is going to get support because this is a place where Fox News is on all the time, whether it’s a doctor’s office or at the gym,” Evelyn Lewis-Wilson, a real estate broker in Roswell, said. “That’s the way it is.”

Her friend, Sandra Jackson, agreed — with a caveat.

“Is this Fox News land? Of course,” Jackson said. “But I do think there is a hidden Democratic vote out there who won’t talk about it at work but aren’t too happy with Trump or what the Republicans are up to.”

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