ATLANTA, GEORGIA — The national spotlight has been trained on the northern Atlanta suburbs this week as the district held one of the first elections of the Trump era. And that spotlight may not go anywhere.
Democrat Jon Ossoff, who was looking to defy the odds in a solidly red district, failed to reach 50 percent of the vote in an election that pitted 11 different GOP candidates against him — advancing the race to a June 20 run-off against Republican Karen Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state.
During his watch party, before the results were official, Ossoff told Handel to “bring it on.”
“This is already a remarkable victory,” he later said in a statement after the results were announced. “We defied the odds, shattered expectations, and now are ready to fight on and win in June.”
Though not a loss, the outcome felt like one to many supporters at Ossoff’s election night watch party in a hotel ballroom in Atlanta. Moving to a run-off means the National Republican Congressional Committee will be able to dedicate its resources to the race, and conservative voters can mobilize around a single candidate. Ossoff will have a tough battle ahead to beat a Republican one-on-one in the conservative district.
Nonetheless, his supporters — many of whom have become active in Democratic politics to a degree never before seen in Georgia’s sixth district — said they are ready to fight with him.
“It does not feel like a loss. It just means we have more work to do,” Michele Swanston told ThinkProgress late Tuesday night. “He’s like our superhero. I think he can go up against Karen Handel no problem.”
Swanston noted that Handel is well-known but disliked in the district for her excessive, wasteful spending. “That could be a weak spot for her,” she said.
Canvassers with the local Planned Parenthood affiliate said Tuesday they were unsure if the national organization’s Action Fund arm would continue giving them funding to knock on doors during a run-off.
But others, like Meredith Trotta and her 14-year-old daughter Lily Parzych, who moved to the South from Connecticut six years ago, said the campaign has given them a much-needed outlet for their frustration. Roughly 70 percent of their town of Milton voted for Trump.
“We felt pretty hopeless,” Trotta said in reference to November. “We wanted to send a message that win or lose tonight, Trump is in trouble.”
Trotta added that she is ready to continue working to help Ossoff win in June, when the race may become even more of a referendum on the president.
“I think everybody here is committed,” she said. “Help from around the country is going to be immense, and I think by then, Trump will be in more trouble than he is now. I think Republicans who voted for him are going to have to start thinking long and hard about country over party.”
Even as Ossoff’s chances of an outright win dwindled late Tuesday, his supporters continued dancing, celebrating and cheering him on. Trotta said she expects to see the same level of energy continue through June.
“I think a lot of people will tell you it can’t, and a lot of Russian bots will try to convince you it’ll never happen, but absolutely it can.”