Thu, Apr 20, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Vote seen as Trump test goes to run-off

AFP, WASHINGTON

Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff speaks to his supporters as the votes were being counted in a special election for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District in Atlanta on Tuesday.

Photo: AFP

A Democrat came close to outright victory in Tuesday’s closely watched US congressional primary in Georgia, heading to a run-off in a race that Democrats tout as an early test of resistance to US President Donald Trump.

Jon Ossoff, 30, came first in a crowded field of candidates in the traditionally conservative 6th Congressional District, but narrowly fell short of passing the all-important 50 percent threshold.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Ossoff finished far ahead with 48.1 percent support. The nearest Republican — former Georgia secretary of state Karen Handel — came in at just 19.8 percent.

Winning the June 20 run-off will be a steeper challenge for Ossoff, though, as Handel will almost certainly benefit from her party coalescing around a single candidate in a conservative-leaning district, but Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker and former congressional aide, told energized supporters before all the returns were in that he and Democrats had “shattered expectations” with their performance.

“There is no doubt that this is already a victory for the ages,” Ossoff said. “No matter what the outcome is tonight — whether we take it all or whether we fight on — we have defied the odds. We have shattered expectations.”

As two candidates advance to a head-to-head vote Democrats still hope that Ossoff can capitalize on Trump’s lackluster popularity and make the race a test of the president’s first 100 days.

A shock upset in the national spotlight, the argument goes, would deeply embarrass the president and could kick-start efforts to retake control of the House of Representatives in next year’s midterm elections.

Georgia’s 6th Congressional District is in the relatively affluent and conservative suburbs of Atlanta. It has remained a Republican fortress since 1978 when it was won by former US representative Newt Gingrich.

Ossoff is running in a special election there to replace Tom Price, who resigned to become US secretary of health and human services.

Under normal circumstances a Republican win would be in little doubt, but Trump’s approval rating lags at about 40 percent in a Gallup tracking poll — a record low for an incoming US president.

A new Gallup poll shows just 45 percent of Americans think Trump will keep his campaign promises, down from 62 percent in early February.

The Ossoff political threat drew the personal interest of Trump, who recorded a robocall urging Republicans to troop to the polls and block the Democratic upstart.

Early yesterday Trump weighed in again, claiming that a Republican finishing with less than 20 percent support was a victory.

“Despite major outside money, FAKE media support and eleven Republican candidates, BIG “R” win with runoff in Georgia. Glad to be of help!” Trump tweeted.

In the run-up to Tuesday’s vote, Ossoff had marshaled an army of volunteers and reportedly amassed millions of US dollars in out-of-state contributions by Democratic groups.

Liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org in a statement called Ossoff’s first-place finish “a huge triumph for the resistance and for progressives.”

“The reason is clear: voters are rejecting Trump and his policies,” it said.

Part of what is fueling Democratic excitement about the race is that while Trump won Georgia by 6 percentage points, the district that Ossoff seeks to win supported Trump by barely 1 precentage point over then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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