Democrat Jon Ossoff will need to win a significant slice of Republicans to pull off an upset victory in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District race. On Wednesday, he and his supporters opened a new front aimed squarely at wooing conservatives to side with him.
Ossoff held a press conference at the state Capitol outlining his plan to cut $16 billion in federal spending. He campaigned with Jason Kander, a moderate Missouri Democrat who won statewide office in a red state. And House Democrats launched an ad campaign aimed at turning conservative voters in the district against Republican Karen Handel.
“I’ve been reaching out to voters across the political spectrum from the beginning of this campaign,” Ossoff said. “Voters in the 6th District are interested in leadership and representation that’s focused less on political party and more on getting things done. And cutting waste is simply not a partisan issue.”
Handel’s campaign dismisses the efforts to win over Republicans, who have long dominated the suburban Atlanta district. She has worked to consolidate the GOP base and was feted Tuesday at a fundraiser with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan — days after she appeared with President Donald Trump at a stop in Atlanta.
“This is a Republican congressional district. That’s why you don’t see pictures of him at his fundraiser with (U.S. House Democratic leader) Nancy Pelosi,” Handel spokesman Charlie Harper said. “He’s being funded by liberal groups to flood Georgia with highly scripted, poll-tested talking points designed to make Republican voters forget who he’ll be working for if he gets to D.C.”
It’s a battle that could determine the June 20 race. Ossoff has tried to expand the electorate by targeting left-leaning voters who rarely cast ballots in the special election. But his campaign has also aimed for Republicans who are uneasy with Trump.
There is room for him to maneuver. Republicans have held the seat for decades and Tom Price breezed to victory in November, but Trump barely edged out Hillary Clinton in the district.
And although Ossoff has proclaimed himself a “make Trump furious” candidate, his more recent stump speeches and campaign ads have walked a finer line. He is more likely to talk about cutting wasteful spending and bringing jobs to the north Atlanta suburbs than to attack Trump.
It could be paying off: Analysts estimate between 10 percent and 20 percent of Republicans voted for Ossoff in the April contest. He likely needs to repeat that performance — or come close — to eke out a victory against Handel next month.
“It’s appealing. I live in Johns Creek and I know that fiscally conservative message will help him reach out across party lines,” said Jason Ingraham, an attorney who volunteers for Ossoff. “I’m surprised by how many Ossoff signs are in the neighborhood, but you’ve got to appeal to Republicans to win this district.”
Some Republicans in the district, meanwhile, say Ossoff is wasting his breath.
“Ossoff peaked on April 18, and it sure doesn’t seem like he’s done much to convince people to change their minds about him,” said Lane Flynn, the owner of a packaging equipment firm and a Republican organizer. “I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere. We know District 6 is a Republican district and that’s not going to change.”
‘You’d better win’
Handel will have the full weight of the Republican Party to help her try to keep conservatives in the fold.
Case in point: Ryan hosted a Washington fundraiser for her on Tuesday and appears likely to make a trip to the district. And Trump helped her raise $750,000 on Friday afternoon after his speech at the National Rifle Association convention.
At that closed-door fundraiser, Trump recognized that this race is seen as an early referendum on his young presidency, and he turned to her with a smile and a message: “You’d better win,” he said, according to five attendees.
A range of conservative groups are putting skin in the game.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC with ties to Ryan, plans to spend $3.5 million in the final weeks of the race. The National Republican Congressional Committee has paid for $3.65 million in airtime, while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched an ad blitz Monday worth nearly $1 million.
Handel, meanwhile, has kept a lower profile in the days after her Trump appearance. But her campaign released its first digital ad, a 60-second spot about her “tough” demeanor that focuses on her decision to leave a troubled home in Maryland at 17 rather than stay with an alcoholic mother.
“That makes a person not only strong and tough,” she said in the ad, “but also resilient and empathetic about other folks who are going through their own challenges and difficult situations.”
‘The people back home’
Ossoff is bringing his own resources to bear. He has snapped up more than $5.2 million in airtime for cable, TV and radio spots through the runoff, and that’s likely just a taste of what’s to come. It suggests he’s added millions more to his unprecedented $8.3 million fundraising haul.
And he’s getting additional help from outside groups as well.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched an ad Wednesday that targets conservative 6th District voters on social media with a quiz peppering them with several sharp quotes about Handel from her former rivals.
Among them were digs from U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who defeated her in the 2014 battle for an open U.S. Senate seat, and former state Sen. Dan Moody, a vanquished rival in last month’s vote who has yet to endorse her.
Ossoff trekked to the state Capitol on Wednesday to outline a plan to cut federal spending that relied heavily on reports from nonpartisan budget offices.
It includes big-ticket items, such as consolidating federal data centers and consolidating military bases, long talked about by politicians from both parties. Handel’s campaign said it was nothing more than an attempt to “hoodwink” voters into thinking he’s a fiscal conservative.
Democrats had some backup on Wednesday from Kander, a former Missouri secretary of state who narrowly lost a challenge against Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt in November. Kander now leads the Let America Vote advocacy that targets voter suppression and gerrymandering.
“He’s prioritizing local economic development and local issues,” Kander said. “People don’t want just another person who will go out and scream about what’s going on in the national level. They want someone who is going to stay focused on the people back home. And that’s exactly what he’s doing.”