White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon is reportedly keeping close tabs on the House special election in Georgia that's being seen as a test of whether Democrats can turn backlash against President Trump into political gains.
The seat in Georgia's 6th District, left open when Rep. Tom Price (R) left the House to become Trump's secretary of Health and Human Services, has become a battleground over Trump as outside money pours in and Democrat Jon Ossoff looks to flip the seat.
Bannon told New York magazine that Ossoff, a 30-year-old rising star, is running a “smart campaign” in the April primary to fill the seat.
A White House official is tasked with looking at the race and tracking poll numbers for Bannon, according to the report.
“It’s something that I’m tracking specifically for Bannon,” the official said. “And keeping an eye on, following all the polls, following the kind of narrative out there.”
“So it’s definitely something we’re paying attention to and the political department’s paying attention to as well.”
Democrats are trying to turn the race, the first competitive congressional election since Trump took office, into a referendum on the president. While it is a reliably conservative seat, Trump carried the district by only 1 percentage point in 2016.
As Ossoff seeks to win outright in the April 18 primary, Republicans want to fend off a potential upset. In a last-minute effort, the House GOP’s campaign arm and national Republican Party have both started to launch ad campaigns targeting Ossoff and to send staffers to the suburban Atlanta district.
Other than Bannon’s monitoring of the race, the White House has yet to publicly offer any concrete support or have Trump campaign in the district. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a recent press briefing that the president is willing to help the party in the special election “if needed" but declined to reveal any more plans for the race, if any.
Ossoff is one of 18 candidates competing in the April "jungle primary," which pits candidates against each other regardless of party. If no one candidate reaches 50 percent, the top two vote-getters will advance to a June 20 runoff.
Even though Republican groups are starting to play in the race, most haven’t weighed in on a specific candidate. The 11-candidate GOP field includes former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, former Councilman Bob Gray and former state Sens. Judson Hill and Dan Moody.