Democrats will turn their gaze south this week, hoping victory in a special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District will serve as a referendum on President Trump and spark their efforts to counter his agenda — and to win back the House.
Embodying those hopes is Democrat Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old former Capitol Hill staffer who has campaigned as a moderate in the wealthy suburbs north of Atlanta and raised more than $23 million.
But despite Ossoff’s financial advantage — the showdown is the most expensive House race in history — Democrats remain on edge. Polls show the clash between Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel too close to call, and GOP candidates have prevailed in several special elections this year.
Timing is critical, with Tuesday’s vote coming as congressional Democrats are rousing their base by attempting to block Republican legislation to overhaul the nation’s health-care system. Senate GOP leaders have been privately revising a House-passed version for weeks, aiming to call a vote by the end of June.
Many Democrats see the Georgia race and their health-care moves as intertwined. If Ossoff wins, the likely wave of enthusiasm could rattle Trump and Republicans. If Ossoff loses, it could be demoralizing and reveal the challenges facing Democrats ahead of next year’s midterm elections, despite the GOP health-care proposal’s unpopularity and the controversy over Trump’s handling of investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Democrats need to flip 24 Republican-held seats to take back the House majority, which they lost seven years ago.
The stakes have stoked talk of unity among wings of the Democratic Party, which has dealt with intraparty tensions since Trump won. On Sunday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he was standing with Ossoff, even though Ossoff has not run as a vocal progressive.
“Oh, absolutely,” Sanders said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I very much want Ossoff to win. His views are a lot better than his Republican opponent’s.”
Sanders also said Democrats “should do everything possible” to counter Trump and the Republican health-care bill, and framed the Georgia race as one of the ways the party could begin to “turn around its fortune.”
Senate Democratic leaders are considering several maneuvers to stop Republicans from proceeding on the legislation and to protest the GOP’s behind-the-scenes discussions, according to aides.
Once senators return to Washington on Monday, Democrats may threaten to halt procedural routines and boycott committee meetings and hearings, the aides said.
Senate Republicans have acknowledged the potential political pitfalls should their legislation be defined by the secrecy in which it has been deliberated.
“The Senate is not a place where you can just cook up something behind closed doors and rush it for a vote on the floor,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “Every camera in the world is going to have to see what’s in it.”
Ossoff — who nearly won the seat outright in the first round of voting in April — spent the weekend urging Democrats who are furious with Trump to turn out, all while keeping his tone and message steady as he courted more centrist Republicans in a district that has been in GOP hands since 1979. It was represented by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price until he resigned to join Trump’s Cabinet.