Democrats in overdrive to flip Georgia House seat

Lisa Hagen

CHAMBLEE, Ga. — National and local Democrats are in overdrive trying to flip an ultra-tight Georgia House seat in a race viewed as an early referendum on President Trump.

Democrat Jon Ossoff’s campaign has grown into a massive operation, with more than 12,000 volunteers knocking on doors and calling potential voters in Georgia’s 6th District. They say they’ve surpassed half a million voter contacts ahead of Tuesday’s contest.

The influx of volunteers — many interviewed by The Hill said it’s their first time getting involved in a campaign — underscores the immense interest in the suburban Atlanta district vacated by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. The race has become the eye of the political storm since 2016 and Democrats’ hopes are riding on a traditionally GOP district that narrowly voted for Trump. 

{mosads}Ossoff has gained national notoriety over the past several months and has raised an astounding $23 million in a race that has seen about $50 million in total spending. But even with the millions spent on both sides of the aisle, Ossoff and his GOP opponent, Karen Handel, know its turnout that will push one of them across the finish line on Tuesday.

“The [get-out-the-vote] effort is huge and critical,” Ossoff told a small group of reporters Sunday at his Chamblee field office.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure folks know when and where to vote and how and making the case for fresh leadership given what’s going on in Washington and that sending another career politician to D.C. ain’t going to change anything.” 

Ossoff’s ground game hasn’t slowed down in the final days, even with Father’s Day on Sunday.

He had a much more jam-packed schedule of public events over the weekend than Handel, who held one Saturday morning rally with Price and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, a former Georgia governor and first cousin of Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.). Her public schedule is expected to ramp up on Monday, however.

{mosads}Volunteers crowded into Ossoff’s field offices to launch canvasses throughout the weekend. His bright blue campaign posters adorned the walls of his offices, including signs that prominently display “kind” and “ready to fight.”

“It is thanks to the thousands of volunteers who have been knocking on doors for so long that we are poised to win this thing on Tuesday,” Ossoff told volunteers and supporters as he stopped by his Sandy Springs office Saturday afternoon, with cheers of “Flip the Sixth” following him.

Ossoff expects it to be a long night, however, with the whole country and world watching Georgia.

“This is going to be an extraordinarily close election and it’s going to be a late night on Tuesday,” he said. “Every vote will count.”

The huge turnout effort goes well beyond the Georgia Democrat’s campaign.

National groups such as the Progressive Turnout Project, a political action committee, and Planned Parenthood Action Fund have also been flexing their muscles when it comes to boosting turnout and reaching scores of voters in the 6th District.

PPAF said it has 40 canvassers who knock on doors each day and will have knocked on 80,000 doors ahead of the voting. The group touts that it’s twice the size of any other independent canvasses backing Ossoff.

Alex Morgan, executive director of Progressive Turnout Project, said the group has four full-time field reps based in the district and is focused solely on encouraging Democratic voters who vote in every election to turnout again on Tuesday. The group has knocked on 20,000 doors since mid-April, getting 1,500 commitments from people who say they’ll vote for Ossoff.

While canvassing, the group said they’ve consistently heard that voters want a representative who will be a check on Trump, who has been the “biggest partisan force” in the special election.

There are also local groups, such as Pave It Blue, that have rallied thousands in support of Ossoff. Created in March, the grassroots group consists of women, many from metro Atlanta.

The campaigns have another 24 hours before polls open, but early voters have already come out in droves, illustrating the heavy interest in the race. More than 140,000 people have already cast a ballot — twice the amount of people who voted early in the April primary.

Ossoff and Handel will both be looking to get out their base and target those primary voters who have yet to make a pick in Tuesday’s runoff.

Ossoff will need black voters to turn out, since many have dropped off since former President Barack Obama’s elections. And strategists in the state say Handel will be in good shape if she gets white women to go to the ballot box.

In the remaining hours, the race is expected to be a nail-biter all the way through Tuesday, with polls showing a nearly deadlocked race. A source familiar with Ossoff’s campaign said they’re bracing for the possibility of a recount.

Democrats will be competing against the historical trends of a district that had handily reelected Price and was represented by former Speaker Newt Gingrich in the past. GOP strategists expect Handel to do a lot better in the early vote compared to the April primary, now that she’s no longer competing against nearly a dozen Republicans.

“I said very early on after the April election, the key to this election is the early vote. That’s why you see such a high early vote,” said Eric Tanenblatt, a lobbyist and Georgia state finance chairman for the Republican National Committee. Handel served as deputy chief of staff when Tanenblatt was chief of staff for Perdue while he was governor.

“The last 72 hours of the campaign is all about energy and momentum and trying to energize the base.”

Democrats are feeling the pressure for an early victory, but win or lose on Tuesday, these newly energized activists say they aren’t going away and will be out in force in 2018 and 2020. 

“Those of us who have joined this group are looking at this for the long haul,” said Jennifer Mosbacher, 42, a small business owner in East Cobb and a member of Pave It Blue.

“We’ll be back again for 2018.” 

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