For U.S. President Donald Trump, an off-year congressional election on Tuesday in the reliably Republican northern suburbs of Atlanta could spell trouble if Democratic upstart Jon Ossoff pulls off a surprise victory.
A 30-year-old political novice, Ossoff is running as the lone Democrat against a field of 17 Republicans for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives vacated when Trump named Tom Price to be secretary of health and human services.
The outcome will not tip the balance of power in the Republican-controlled House. But an Ossoff win could weaken Trump’s already shaky hold on his fellow Republicans in the House by encouraging those in competitive districts to distance themselves from the president.
Ossoff faces formidable odds. Georgia’s 6th District has elected Republicans to the House since the late 1970s. Trump won the Southern state by about 5 percentage points in November’s election.
Still, opinion polls show Ossoff leading his many rivals. With the slogan: “Make Trump Furious,” he aims to galvanize opposition to a president who is struggling with low approval ratings.
“We have an amazing chance here, an extraordinary moment for Georgia,” Ossoff told campaign volunteers as they headed out for a final round of door-knocking on Monday afternoon.
Ossoff raised a stunning $8.3 million in the first three months of 2017, forcing Republicans to spend heavily against him. Those in the race are split among Trump supporters and candidates trying to hold the president at arm’s length.
Since he defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton last year, Trump and the Republicans have had control of the White House and both chambers of Congress. But they have yet to enact major legislation to fulfill campaign promises.
The president’s approval rating has not topped 50 percent since he took office on Jan. 20, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.
‘SUPER LIBERAL DEMOCRAT’
Trump, a businessman and TV celebrity elected without having previously held political office, has attacked Ossoff on Twitter, calling him a “super Liberal Democrat” who would “protect criminals, allow illegal immigration and raise taxes.”
Ossoff is aiming to win an outright majority in Tuesday’s vote, a “jungle primary” with all 18 candidates from both parties on the same ballot. If no one reaches 50 percent, the top two vote-getters square off on June 20.
Republicans say they can beat Ossoff in a one-on-one contest, when the party will be able to unite around a single candidate.
Republicans avoided embarrassment last week when they narrowly held a conservative Kansas seat vacated when Trump tapped Republican Representative Mike Pompeo to head the CIA.
(Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney)