Dems, GOP brace for nail-biter in Georgia

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Georgia’s special election will be a nail-biter all the way to the finish line Tuesday, as President Trump looms large over an election that has huge stakes for both Democrats and Republicans ahead of the 2018 midterms.

Democrats have zeroed in on the suburban Atlanta district as their best chance this year to flip a House seat and are looking to Jon Ossoff to be the face of the anti-Trump resistance. But if 

Ossoff comes up short, his loss will deal a major blow to their newfound momentum and political activism.

The stakes are just as high for the GOP. If it loses the seat left open by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Trump will likely shoulder the blame and Republicans could start defecting from his agenda.

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On the other hand, a victory for Republican Karen Handel will signify that opposition to Trump might not win Democrats the House in 2018.

In the final days of the race, Ossoff and Handel have sought to steer clear of national politics, with each candidate barely uttering Trump’s name. Both have also downplayed the national implications of the race, even though it has been a magnet for attention and tens of millions of dollars. The total spending in the race is estimated to be around $60 million.

Ossoff, who launched his campaign months ago by urging voters to “Make Trump Furious,” has tempered his rhetoric when it comes to the president. While he needed to win Democrats in the jungle primary, he now needs to appeal to more moderate voters in a district that has been a deep shade of red for decades.

But when hyping up his supporters over the weekend as they launched more canvasses, Ossoff still made indirect references to Trump, saying that “fear and hate” won’t be tolerated in the state.

“Let’s send a message across this country that fear and hate and division are not welcome in Georgia,” Ossoff said at his Sandy Springs office on Saturday, “that Georgians stand up instead for unity and for progress.”

When asked about Trump directly, Ossoff didn’t shy away from saying that he’ll stand up to the president where there are major differences, but he also said he’d work with him on issues where they can find common ground.

“I’ve consistently said I’ll stand up to President Trump if he embarrasses us or threatens our interests and that I’m willing to work with him on issues of mutual interest,” Ossoff told reporters on Sunday, adding that there has been an increase in concerns lately over the administration’s “integrity and competence.”

Ossoff’s ground game has grown into a massive operation of more than 12,000 volunteers, helped along by canvassing and phone banking from various national and local groups.

The campaign’s emphasis on the ground game illustrates how important turnout will be for Ossoff in a GOP-leaning district. Trump only carried the district by less than 2 points, but Price still handily won reelection.

Ossoff will need to turn out his base — particularly voters in northern DeKalb County and black voters — and make some inroads with independents and even GOP voters still lukewarm on Trump.

Handel has also had to strike a difficult balance when it comes to the president. She didn’t mention him once at any of her events or rallies in the final days of the race, and notably neglected to bring him up while campaigning with Price and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, a former Georgia governor.

But that hasn’t stopped Trump from weighing in. He tweeted his support for Handel Monday morning and followed up later in the day with another tweet attacking Ossoff for living outside the district. Trump also recorded a robocall for Handel earlier this month.

When told that Trump tweeted about her, Handel only briefly remarked, with some laughter: “I heard that, I heard, yes.”

Handel’s decision to keep her distance from Trump risks alienating Trump’s supporters, a part of the GOP base that she still needs. But GOP strategists believe she has still shown enough support for Republicans’ legislative agenda in Washington.

“Karen has to sort of walk a fine line, but I don’t think she’s shied away from talking about those core Republican issues that Republican leaders in Washington have focused on,” said Eric Tanenblatt, a lobbyist and Georgia state finance chairman for the Republican National Committee. Tanenblatt and Handel previously worked together for Perdue.

Handel’s campaign has looked to keep pace with Ossoff’s. The Georgia Republican said they knocked on 6,000 doors on Saturday, while national groups and a super PAC tied to House GOP leadership have funneled GOP money into the race.

In a nod to the closeness of the race, Handel and Ossoff got some last-minute help Monday from other politicians.

While Handel was meeting potential voters in Alpharetta, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) swung by her event. Handel’s primary rival Bob Gray also stopped by, telling The Hill he’s been rallying his Trump loyalist base for Handel.

Former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander (D) also stopped by Ossoff’s two canvassing events on Monday. Kander gained some national attention after running a close race for Senate in Missouri last year.

While Ossoff and Handel have publicly balked at playing up the race’s national significance, Kander reminded supporters that all eyes in politics would be on Georgia when polls close at 7 p.m. on Tuesday night.

“You know the whole country’s watching,” he said.