‘Resistance’ Thinks Georgia Race About Trump; Dem Not So Sure

As early voting starts, Ossoff dodges questions about president — gets hit for exaggerating experience

by Brendan Kirby | Updated 31 May 2017 at 6:54 AM

After a series of special election disappointments, activists in “The Resistance” still hope to turn Jon Ossoff’s campaign for Congress in Georgia into a statement against President Donald Trump, but the young Democrat appears less enthusiastic.

In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, the day early voting began for the June 20 runoff election, Ossoff demurred when anchor Chris Cuomo asked him about Trump.

“As much [as] national Democrats want to make this about Trump, Ossoff does not want to make this about the national Democratic Party.”

“I prefer to talk about what I’m running for, which is greater accountability in Washington,” he said. “The ability to work across the aisle to get things done that will develop metro Atlanta’s regional economy … I think we have too much running against things in this country.”

Perhaps it is a sign that the smooth-talking documentary filmmaker realizes a bash-Trump strategy is not wise in a district that has not elected a Democrat since Georgia native son Jimmy Carter won the presidency.

“As much [as] national Democrats want to make this about Trump, Ossoff does not want to make this about the national Democratic Party,” said Jeremy Adler, a spokesman for the conservative super PAC America Rising Squared.

Ossoff left a crowded field in the dust in the first round of voting in April, but fell shy of a majority that would have allowed him to take the seat without a runoff. With Democrats united behind him and a divided crowd of relatively well-known Republicans, Ossoff finished first in almost every precinct in the suburban Atlanta 6th Congressional District, which covers parts of Fulton, DeKalb and Cobb counties.

The June 20 runoff figures to be much different. Instead of a distracted field of Republicans aiming at one another, Ossoff is squaring off against a GOP unified behind former Secretary of State Karen Handel. An analysis by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed that if Handel won all of the votes cast by Republicans in April and Ossoff won the Democratic votes, she would have won with 51 percent of the total vote.

Ossoff ran strongest in the southern part of the district closes to Atlanta, while the Republicans fared best in the north and west.

Trump is not the only sensitive topic that Ossoff is trying dance around. In his interview with Cuomo on Tuesday, he sidestepped a question about his fundraising, 95 percent of which, as of March 29, came from outside the district. He said his average donation is less than $50.

Ossoff vs. Handel
Polls of Georgia 6th District race
Fox 5/Opinion Savvy42%44%
Source: RealClearPolitics

"When you've got these super PACs coming in from Washington with anonymously raised special-interest money, running endless attack ads, it's necessary to raise significant resources to fight back," he said.

Adler said the Democrat tried to avoid the question.

"It was a nice dodge," he said.

As voters start casting ballots, Ossoff also is doubling down on a point that has been a source of criticism — his national-security credentials, which independent fact-checkers have concluded he is exaggerating.

"I've got five years of  experience as a congressional aide, working on defense and national-security issues serving Georgia," he told CNN's Cuomo on Tuesday. "I'm a small business owner. I run a company that specializes in exposing crime and political corruption. And I bring a fresh perspective."

Handel has accused Ossoff of misleading voters on the issue and is running an ad making that allegation. Ossoff's latest commercial responds: "I sent a team to the front line against ISIS to expose their atrocities against women and girls. As a national-security aide, I worked with our military to strengthen our national defense and I earned top-secret clearance, based on 'need to know.'"

While Ossoff did have mid- to senior-level security positions on Capitol Hill for three years, his first two years with Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) were part-time while he was an undergraduate student at Georgetown University.

"The case of him exaggerating is pretty open and shut," said Scott Sloofman, the rapid response director for America Rising Squared.

The first test will be how the campaigns mobilize supporters for early voting, which starts with one location in Cobb County, five in DeKalb, and six in Fulton. Historically, Democrats have won the early vote in most places in the country.

Chase Jennings, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, told LifeZette that the party expects that trend to hold. He wrote in an email that the GOP expects 17 percent to 18 percent of GOP votes to be cast early.

"That number will skew higher for Democrats, as Republicans traditionally vote on Election Day," he wrote. "We just need Republicans to know that, not get discouraged, and make sure to vote."

Ossoff and Handel have traded leads of 2 percentage points in most polls, although the most recent survey — a WXIA-TV/Survey USA poll conducted May 16-20 — gave Ossoff a lead of 51 percent to 44 percent. Adler, of America Rising Squared, said the most significant poll already was conducted on Election Day in April.

"They had an election, and Jon Ossoff got 48.1 percent," he said. "That was going to be his ceiling, theoretically."

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