Jon Ossoff (SFS ’09), a Democratic candidate running for Georgia’s 6th congressional district, is set to face Republican Karen Handel in a June 20 runoff for a seat that has been held by a Republican for nearly four decades.
Ossoff earned 48.1 percent of the vote to Handel’s 19.8 percent, narrowly missing outright victory Tuesday. The field of 11 Republican and five Democratic candidates, including Ossoff, were vying to fill the seat vacated by Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price when he assumed that position in President Donald Trump’s cabinet.
The election reflects a larger partisan standoff in national politics. The Democratic Party is looking to rebuke Trump’s election through early special elections around the country, while congressional Republicans are trying to maintain their 237 to 193 majority in the House of Representatives.
Most recently, Democrats failed to secure a win in Kansas’ 4th congressional district in a special election April 11 to fill CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s seat.
In an address to supporters Tuesday night while votes were still being tallied, Ossoff offered a message of hope and resilience.
“We have defied the odds. We have shattered expectations. We are changing the world and your voices are going to ring out across this state and across this country. We will be ready to fight on and win in June if it is necessary,” Ossoff said.
Ossoff campaigned on a platform of grassroots strength and emphasized the idea of inclusion Wednesday night.
“Let’s show what people power is all about. Let’s show what it means when we say that we have more in common than we have apart; that we reject fear, scapegoating and division; that we choose to love one another and to make things happen,” Ossoff said Tuesday night.
Hanna Hope, chief of staff for the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service, predicted Ossoff would not win outright Tuesday night and that the race would go to a runoff in a Washington Post opinion piece published Tuesday.
“In any other year, this district is an easy win for Republicans,” Hope wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The fact that Ossoff has captured national attention says a lot about the state of the Republican Party. It’s remarkable to have this level of turnout on the left in an off-year, and especially in a special election.”
Hope also led a three-day student trip through GU Politics to observe the election campaign. The Hoya reported April 11 the six students attended a debate between the top five Republican contenders for the party nomination and met candidates including Ossoff and Judson Hill, a Republican.
In an interview with USA Today, Emory University political science professor Alan Abramowitz said the success of Ossoff’s campaign in a historically red district correlates with Trump’s low approval ratings.
The latest poll places support for Trump at 43 percent, according to Gallup.
“Just the fact that Ossoff is getting this close and has a chance tells you there’s been a significant swing,” Abramowitz said. “That tells us Trump’s unpopularity is hurting other Republican candidates and has the potential to hurt other Republicans in the midterms.”
Jack Dobkin (SFS ’19), who grew up in the 6th District, volunteered for Ossoff’s campaign and attended the GU Politics trip, said the outcome demonstrated Republicans’ decades-long hold on the district, despite having a Democratic front-runner in this election.
“The outcome of the race simultaneously did and did not surprise me. The election results did surprise me because Ossoff over-performed what many of the polls were saying, even if just by a few points,” Dobkin said. “The end results show just how entrenched the Republican Party’s roots in the 6th District are. Having said that, I don’t think that they’ve entirely escaped what they might view as a disaster just yet.”
Dobkin also commented on the long-standing trends that have affected the Democrats in the district, expressing that attitudes have shifted in light of the current political climate.
“Democrats and people who just don’t agree with the President’s performance so far have been energized in huge ways by the President,” Dobkin said. “For decades, Democrats in the 6th District have been discouraged and disillusioned with putting in any effort or candidates with a real shot.”