You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myAJC.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myAJC.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myAJC.com.

breaking news

Waffle House co-founder dies a month after his partner

Georgia Democrats, Republicans seek lessons in tight Kansas race


Republicans survived a scare in Tuesday’s special congressional election in Kansas, the first major vote since Donald Trump’s presidential victory. And Democrats hope the vote portends good news for them in the next election — next week’s contest in Georgia to succeed Tom Price.

Republican John Estes’ single-digit victory over Democrat James Thompson came in a Kansas district that Trump won by a whopping 27 percent just five months ago. And it took a sweeping GOP rescue effort that featured a robo-call from the president and visits by Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz to help Estes notch the victory.

Trump had far more tepid support in November in Georgia’s 6th District, a swath of suburban Atlanta he carried by less than 2 percentage points. And Jon Ossoff, the leading Democrat in the crowded race, has attracted far more fundraising dollars and national attention than the little-known challenger to Estes in Kansas.

That combination has frazzled Republicans sounding the alarm that a district that elected Price — now Trump’s health secretary — in landslide victories could fall into Democratic hands.

“If Jon Ossoff’s fundraising numbers weren’t enough of a wake-up call for Republicans, the election results in Kansas should be,” Georgia GOP strategist Chip Lake said.

Key dynamics in the races are certainly different: While national GOP groups rushed in to Kansas over the past week to play defense, they have been pouring millions into attack ads against Ossoff for months. Estes was helped by a tide of rural voters — a factor largely nonexistent in the suburban 6th District. And Estes’ struggles were also seen as a rebuke to unpopular Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.

“Those states don’t have a highly unpopular governor that is going to have the proverbial millstone around the candidate’s neck,” Michael O’Donnell, a Kansas GOP commissioner, told The Wichita Eagle on whether the vote signals trouble for Republicans in Georgia and other upcoming special elections.

What’s more, the Kansas race featured just three candidates while Georgia’s race has 18 hopefuls sharing the same ballot. A June 20 runoff looms if no candidate gets a majority vote, but Ossoff is aiming for an outright win — and is hovering in the mid-40s in recent polling.

“It’s like Dorothy — we’re not in Kansas anymore,” said Heath Garrett, a Republican strategist and adviser to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson. “Kansas was a cavalry call for Republicans. It wasn’t a panic alert.”

But there are also some telling similarities between the two contests. Democrats and other Trump critics in Kansas rallied around Thompson in hopes of dealing the White House a staggering defeat in its first months. And skittish Republicans eager to avoid a devastating setback pulled out all the stops to defend their turf.

Even as GOP strategists grow more unsettled about the Democratic turnout in Georgia — one worried operative sent a text of Ossoff supporters massing in deep-red Johns Creek — some conservatives said they are unfazed.

“I’m not worried at all by what happened in Kansas,” said Lauren Raper, an east Cobb County Republican. “Good will triumph. I know it.”

The leading Republican candidates in the scrambled field, meanwhile, have focused more on targeting each other than blasting Ossoff. A new wave of attack ads unleashed this week by Bob Gray and Dan Moody took aim at Karen Handel, the former Georgia secretary of state who leads the GOP candidates in most public polls.

National Republicans, meanwhile, have spent more than $3 million on ads that cast Ossoff as an inexperienced stooge of U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and targeted him for his work as an investigative filmmaker with Al-Jazeera. Ossoff has called those ads “smear attacks” meant to distract voters.

And GOP candidates in the crowded field seized on the Kansas results to urge supporters not to grow complacent, though they said they were unconcerned by the margin of victory.

“He won,” Handel said Wednesday at a Sandy Springs event. “I feel very good about where I am and where this district is. Look, we are a little fractured right now, but on April 18 when the votes are counted we will all come together on the morning of the 19th and get ready to kick some Ossoff.”

Georgia GOP analysts took stock in a glimmer of good news: Estes pulled off the victory despite early voting that heavily favored Democrats. Conservative operatives have nervously tracked early-voting results in Georgia, too, that initially seem to favor Ossoff’s campaign.

But even the most optimistic Republicans pointed to an enthusiasm advantage that is, for now, clearly tilted in Ossoff’s favor. He has thousands of volunteers to augment dozens of paid staffers fanned across the district, and the more than $6 million he’s spent on the contest has helped him reach nontraditional Democratic voters.

In an interview after a Brookhaven campaign stop, Ossoff said the Kansas vote sent another bolt through his campaign.

“It was closer than expected. And if what was going on there is anything like what happened here — the intensity of grass-roots engagement in politics in this community right now is maybe unprecedented,” Ossoff said, adding: “It’s part of the reason this is a winnable race.”

And Lake, the GOP strategist, said the Kansas results have already sent a signal to other Republican candidates in seemingly safe districts that running a textbook strategy might not be enough.

“It was a close race,” he said, “and it shouldn’t have been.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Georgia Politics

Donald Trump returning to Atlanta as president
Donald Trump returning to Atlanta as president

President Donald Trump returns to Georgia on Friday for the first time since his election with a whirlwind visit that includes a speech to the National Rifle Association’s convention in downtown Atlanta and a fundraiser for Republican Karen Handel’s campaign for Congress. Scores of protesters are ready to welcome the president with demonstrations...
AJC Watchdog: DC lawyers, liberal groups push 6th District lawsuit
AJC Watchdog: DC lawyers, liberal groups push 6th District lawsuit

With the nation’s most closely watched congressional race headed to a runoff in June, a D.C.-based voting rights advocacy group is pressing in federal court to reopen voter registration. It is the latest legal maneuver for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. The non-profit law firm dates back to the Kennedy administration...
Karen Handel embraces Donald Trump ahead of 6th District runoff
Karen Handel embraces Donald Trump ahead of 6th District runoff

Republican Karen Handel has wholeheartedly embraced President Donald Trump ahead of a June matchup against a surging Democrat, securing financial help for her costly campaign but also embarking on potentially treacherous political ground in a district that was skeptical of him. But after landing a spot in the June 20 runoff against Democrat Jon Ossoff...
From Georgia power broker to prison; ex-Sen. Charles Walker’s comeback
From Georgia power broker to prison; ex-Sen. Charles Walker’s comeback

Nicknamed “The Hammer,” Charles Walker was a share-cropper’s son turned millionaire Augusta businessman who rose to become the Georgia Senate’s only African-American majority leader. But the feds came after him hard in the mid-2000s, and he was convicted on mail fraud and other charges and sentenced to a decade in...
Early voting for Senate District 32 race begins May 6 in Sandy Springs
Early voting for Senate District 32 race begins May 6 in Sandy Springs

Voters in north Fulton County will be able to cast ballots as early as May 6 for the runoff election to fill Judson Hill’s state Senate seat. The North Fulton Service Center at 7741 Roswell Road in Sandy Springs will be home to the lone early voting polling place for the District 32 election. Early voting will be available Saturday, May 6 through...
More Stories