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Trump Goes After Leading Democrat in Georgia House Race

Tuesday's primary includes 18 candidates — Republicans, Democrats and Independents

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    Trump Goes After Leading Democrat in Georgia House Race
    Joe Raedle/Getty Images
    Democrat Jon Ossoff arrives to greet supporters at an Atlanta campaign office on April 15, 2017, as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District in a special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services. The election on April 18th will fill the congressional seat that has been held by a Republican since the 1970s.

    President Donald Trump on Monday attacked his political enemies seeking an upset in Georgia's special congressional election, blasting the leading Democratic candidate as a "super liberal" who "wants to protect criminals, allow illegal immigration and raise taxes!"

    Trump did not expound on his unfounded accusations about 30-year-old Jon Ossoff, but the president's Twitter broadside just a day before the special primary underscores how big a Democratic victory would be nationwide and in the historically conservative northern suburbs of Atlanta.

    Ossoff, who has used anti-Trump sentiments nationally to collect at least $8.3 million in campaign contributions, countered Monday that Trump is "misinformed," but added that he's "glad the president is interested in the race."

    Republicans and Democrats alike see the closely watched contest as an important barometer of Trump's standing ahead of 2018 midterm elections, when Democrats will try to regain control of Congress.

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    The Georgia district, represented previously by Trump's new health secretary, Tom Price, encompasses reliably Republican territory across parts of three metro Atlanta counties. But Trump underperformed here in November, barely edging Democrat Hillary Clinton and falling short of a majority. In 2012, by contrast, Republican nominee Mitt Romney garnered more than 60 percent of the vote.

    Even the leading Republican candidates concede that Ossoff will lead an 18-candidate "jungle primary" that places all candidates on the same ballot. The question is whether he can win an outright majority.

    GOP hopeful Karen Handel said Monday that she is confident enough Republicans will cast ballots to hold Ossoff short of a majority, thus setting up a June 20 runoff between the Democratic upstart and Tuesday's top Republican performer.

    "Republican voters are not going to sit by and let this district go to a Democrat," Handel said.

    But the mere possibility has political observers across the country watching closely. Both major parties see the well-educated, affluent district as a key test of Trump's popularity among the kinds of voters who will decide whether to hand House control back to Democrats next year.

    The attention grew even more intense after last week's special congressional election in Kansas, where Republican Ron Estes won by just single-digits in a Wichita-based district that Trump had carried easily.

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    For her part, Handel, a GOP establishment favorite who served previously as Georgia secretary of state, has worked not to localize the race.

    "My closing argument is the same as my opening argument, that we need an experienced individual with a track record of delivering real results," she said as she campaigned in an upscale shopping district Monday.

    That has made her an outlier among top Republican contenders.

    Wealthy technology executive Bob Gray has cozied up to Trump from the start, running ads that show him, literally, draining a swamp — a nod to one of Trump's campaign signatures. Gray pledges to be a "willing partner" for the new administration.

    Former state Sen. Judson Hill is touting his endorsement from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, one of gaggle of Republican presidential hopefuls that Trump vanquished. Hill's campaign used Rubio on a recorded phone pitch to Republican households over the weekend.

    Ossoff, meanwhile, has tried to capitalize on intense anti-Trump sentiments among liberals, while still coaxing disaffected independents and moderate Republicans who normally wouldn't consider voting Democratic.

    In his response to Trump's tweet, Ossoff said he is "focused on bringing fresh leadership, accountability and bipartisan problem solving to Washington."

    National Republicans have sought to blunt Ossoff's momentum by tying him to national Democrats, particularly House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The California Democrat is an unpopular figure in this Georgia district that once sent former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to Capitol Hill.

    Still, that message hasn't come with the same financial muscle as Ossoff's non-stop television campaign. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, has put more than $2 million into Ossoff attacks, an impressive sum but only about a quarter of the Democrat's campaign haul.

    Ossoff's path to an outright victory may depend on low Republican turnout.

    Almost 55,000 voters cast early ballots, according to the Georgia Secretary of State. Various campaigns say they expect somewhere between 100,000 and 125,000 total votes out of nearly 440,000 registered active voters. The lower the turnout, the greater the chance that Ossoff's enthusiastic core of support will clear the majority threshold.