Ossoff tests waters for Georgia Senate run

Former congressional candidate Jon Ossoff (D) is testing the waters for a possible run against Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) in 2020.

Ossoff raised eyebrows this week after he was invited to attend a town hall meeting in Habersham County, a rural enclave in northeast Georgia that is closer to the South Carolina border than it is to his home base in Atlanta.

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The town hall meeting drew about 100 residents, an encouraging crowd for a Democrat in an area that is ordinarily heavily Republican.

Ossoff struck a populist tone, pointing to low spending on infrastructure and mounting student loan debts.

“The size of the crowd he drew in rural Georgia is very impressive and demonstrates that he would be a very strong candidate if he ran,” said one Democratic consultant who has worked in Georgia.

Several sources with knowledge of Ossoff’s thinking said the 31-year old former congressional aide and investigative journalist has held preliminary talks about challenging Perdue.

He has not yet reached out to consultants or staff, however.

Ossoff burst onto the political scene in 2017, when he raised more than $30 million for a special election campaign to replace former Rep. Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceEx-GOP lawmaker Handel to run for her former Georgia seat in 2020 Bottom Line Trump: The solitary executive MORE (R), who left his suburban Atlanta district to become President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'Haven't thought about' pardons for Mueller target Pence: Rocket attack 'proves that Hamas is not a partner for peace' Conservation remains a core conservative principle MORE’s secretary of Health and Human Services.

He garnered a groundswell of national attention, prompting large sums of outside money to flow from both parties.

Ossoff weathered GOP attacks that sought to tie him to House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump, Dems eye next stage in Mueller fight After Mueller, Democrats need to avoid the Javert trap More than a half-million web articles published on Russia, Trump, Mueller since investigation began: analysis MORE (Calif.) and about living right outside the suburban Atlanta district. At the time, the special election was the most expensive House race in U.S. history.

Ossoff came within 2 percentage points of winning the district outright, though he lost a runoff to Rep. Karen HandelKaren Christine HandelEx-GOP lawmaker Handel to run for her former Georgia seat in 2020 The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Dem whose son was killed in shooting: Gun violence is the real national emergency, ‘not a wall’ MORE (R) in June 2017 by less than 4 points. Handel went on to narrowly lose her bid for a full term to Rep.-elect Lucy McBathLucia (Lucy) Kay McBathEx-GOP lawmaker Handel to run for her former Georgia seat in 2020 Former Dem candidate says he faced cultural barriers on the campaign trail because he is working-class The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority MORE in November.

One Democrat who’s worked in Georgia politics said Ossoff will remain in the public eye — regardless of whether he ultimately runs for Senate. Several Democrats said he remained active in Georgia politics after his special election run.

Georgia is likely to be on Democrats’ radar in 2020, when Perdue is up for a second term, as the party increasingly views Georgia as a battleground.

Perdue won his first term by an 8-point margin over non-profit CEO Michelle Nunn (D) in 2014. Trump won Georgia’s 16 electoral votes by an even narrower 6-point margin in 2016.

But Ossoff may not get the Democratic primary to himself. Former state House Democratic minority leader Stacey Abrams (D), who came close to becoming Georgia’s first African American governor in 2018, may be considering a run against Perdue as well.

Abrams has said she is likely to run for office again, though she has not specified for which office. A source close to Abrams said she has not ruled out running for a U.S. Senate seat in 2020.

Abrams narrowly lost to former Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R), a close Trump ally, in one of the top races of the 2018 cycle.

The divisive race came to a dramatic close 10 days after the November election. Abrams’s campaign had accused Kemp and his office of voter suppression and filed lawsuits to count certain rejected ballots.

At the town hall meeting, Ossoff praised Abrams for highlighting state policies that hindered voter access to the polls.

Ossoff told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this month that he would like to see Abrams run against Perdue.

Georgia Democrats believe there’s a pathway to victory statewide, but acknowledge the challenges the party faces in making inroads in more rural parts of the state that are GOP strongholds.

Aside from Ossoff and Abrams, Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson (D) has been considering a Senate run in 2020. But some Democrats expect potential candidates to weigh their decisions based on Abrams’s political future.

“Right now, everyone will make their decision based on what Stacey Abrams decides to do,” said Tharon Johnson, a veteran Democratic strategist in Georgia. “She’d be very difficult to defeat in a Democratic primary in 2020.”

Georgia has not sent a Democrat to the United States Senate since 2000, when Zell Miller won election to finish the term of the late Sen. Paul Coverdell (R).

Two years later, Sen. Max Cleland (D) lost his seat to Perdue’s predecessor, Republican Saxby Chambliss.

Perdue, who was a businessman before entering politics in 2014, campaigned as an outsider and touted his work as a chief executive for a few companies.

He also helped self-fund his Senate run, and Democrats concede that he’s a disciplined campaigner.

The Republican senator is close with the president and the first cousin of Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueSenate buzz grows for Abrams after speech electrifies Dems Energy Secretary Rick Perry is designated survivor for 2019 State of the Union Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union MORE, Trump’s agriculture secretary and former Georgia governor.