President Donald Trump has been in office fewer than 100 days and already is facing the prospect of a major electoral setback.
Or at least Democrats hope so.
Voters in a suburban Atlanta congressional district will decide Tuesday whether Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff will win outright a special election for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, in a district the Republican Party has held since 1979.
The closely watched contest has drawn national attention as the first political bellwether of the Trump era, after the district nearly split its vote between the Republican leader and Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential election.
It even drew the president’s personal attention Monday, when the White House occupant criticized Ossoff in a tweet.
“The super Liberal Democrat in the Georgia Congressioal (sic) race tomorrow wants to protect criminals, allow illegal immigration and raise taxes!” Trump said.
Ossoff, in a statement, responded that Trump was “misinformed,” saying he would bring “fresh leadership, accountability and bipartisan problem solving to Washington.”
Ossoff has sought to portray his candidacy as the first chance for Democrats to fight back against Trump, though he also has emphasized less partisan messages such as reducing wasteful spending and cleaning up corruption.
The seat in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District became open earlier this year when Trump nominated longtime Republican Rep. Tom Price to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.
At first, both parties considered the race a safe Republican seat. But Ossoff, a 30-year-old former congressional aide who runs an investigative film company, smashed expectations after raising more than $8 million and jumping to big leads in public polls.
Now the question isn’t whether he will finish first Tuesday but whether he can earn more than 50 percent of the vote, necessary to win the race outright.
If he fails to reach that threshold, he’ll be forced into a June runoff against the second highest vote-getter — likely a Republican candidate. Polls find Ossoff falling short of the 50 percent mark, though Republicans concede he could succeed if energized Democratic voters turn out at higher-than-expected rates.
National Republicans, led by the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund, have poured millions of dollars into the district, attacking Ossoff and reminding Republican voters to show up Tuesday.
Democrats, meanwhile, have tried lowering expectations, arguing that despite the district’s Trump antipathy it remains solidly Republican. It’s much more conservative, they argue, than any of the 24 House seats they need to win next year to retake a majority in the House.
Still, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the political arm of House Democrats — is spending $250,000 on radio ads featuring the actor Samuel L. Jackson in an effort to persuade African-American voters to cast their ballots.
Some analysts see Georgia’s 6th District as a new model for Democratic success in House races, thanks to a bloc of well-educated, rich suburban voters who once were bedrock Republicans. Many of those voters backed Clinton in last year’s campaign, and some Democrats think they might now be poised to back the party’s candidates down the ballot.