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Georgia Dems aim for upset in Republican stronghold

April 16, 2017 at 5:18 PM EDT
A special election on Tuesday will replace an open House seat in Georgia's 6th Congressional District left by Tom Price, who is now the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The district outside Atlanta has been solidly Republican for 25 years, but a Democratic newcomer, Jon Ossoff, is making a strong run for the seat. Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter Greg Bluestein joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: There’s a special election on Tuesday for an open seat in the House of Representatives to fill the vacancy left by Tom Price, who’s now the secretary of Health and Human Services. The race is getting national attention and money.

The sixth district in the Atlanta suburbs, as it’s now drawn, has been solidly Republican for 25 years. But a 30-year-old Democratic newcomer, Jon Ossoff, is making a strong run for the seat.

Joining me to discuss the race is “Atlanta Journal Constitution” reporter, Greg Bluestein.

Thanks for joining us.

We don’t usually talk about the Georgia 6th.

GREG BLUESTEIN, ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION: No —

SREENIVASAN: I mean, why is that such a big deal?

BLUESTEIN: No, we don’t usually talk about the Georgia 6th. And I thought, most people in Atlanta thought this would be a sleepy, all Republican race when Tom Price was tapped as Donald Trump’s health secretary.

But Trump’s early struggles in his presidency, as well as the tepid support for Trump in the district that has long been solidly red had made this a nationality story.

SREENIVASAN: And how much money are we talking about this flowing in to both sides of this?

BLUESTEIN: Yes. I mean, 14 million have already been spent on the advertising in this district alone, and Jon Ossoff has raised an unprecedented $8.3 million for a Democratic newcomer in a congressional campaign. And he’s used that to flood the district with ads, with radio spots, with digital hits, and with fliers. I mean, I’ve talked to voters who’ve gotten two, three, four fliers from him a day.

SREENIVASAN: Every few years, we come up with this narrative that’s — well, Georgia could be the one that flips back and forth. This is not a district that has ever trended Democratic, I mean, at least not in the last 25 years.

BLUESTEIN: No, and Tom Price has won landslide victory after landslide victory every two years. That’s, you know, Democrats are trying to temper some of their expectations, at least some of the higher profile Democrats I’m talking to. But with — coupled with the $8.3 million he’s raised and a surge of enthusiasm and there’s clearly an enthusiasm gap and Jon Ossoff is in the 40s in most of the polls, I mean, he’s within the striking distance of getting 50 percent victory outright victory that he wants but it’s unbelievably tough haul for him. I mean, Republicans far outnumber Democrats among primary voters in the district and the district has been in Republican hands essentially since Jimmy Carter’s era.

SREENIVASAN: This is not expected to decide the winner on Tuesday.

BLUESTEIN: No, it’s not. There’s 18 candidates overall on the ballot and they’re all on the same ballot regardless of party. If no one gets a majority of vote, that will go — there will be a June 20th runoff between the two top vote-getters. Ossoff’s best chance might be to get that outright victory because the Republicans in the field, there’s 11 of them. They’re divided, they’re fractious and, they’re warring with each other more than they’re targeting him.

So, Jon Ossoff and his supporters are aiming for that outright victory. And he is close in the polls. He’s about 45 in some of the polls. So, he’s within striking distance but he’s not quite there yet it looks like.

SREENIVASAN: And has this energized the Democratic base?

BLUESTEIN: It has. I mean, we are hearing from new Democratic groups that we’ve never heard of before, a group like the Red Clay Rebellion and Milton Seven, and the (INAUDIBLE) Moms for Ossoff, you know, out of the woodwork these Democratic groups in these deep red territories are showing up.

Johns Creek is one of the reddest parts of the district, and the other day, a Republican strategist sent me a picture of about 150 Ossoff supporters waving signs on this corner saying, “Oh-uh”. So, Republicans are starting to get a little unnerved by it all.

SREENIVASAN: All right. Greg Bluestein from “The Atlanta Journal Constitution” – thanks so much.

BLUESTEIN: Thanks for having me.

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