MILTON, GEORGIA — Forty-eight year old Colt Whittall is proud to say he’s a registered Republican. Until last year, every presidential ballot he’s cast has gone to a Republican candidate, and he has almost never voted for a Democrat. He describes himself as “economically really conservative” and “center-right” on social issues.
But on Tuesday, Whittall will be voting for Democrat Jon Ossoff to fill the seat vacated by Tom Price, President Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.
Speaking to ThinkProgress two days before the special election in Georgia’s sixth district, Whittall said his vote doesn’t have much to do with Ossoff’s policies or resume.
“It’s not about Jon Ossoff,” he said about the 30-year-old candidate, whose potential upset in this conservative district has been making headlines nationwide. “I don’t think he has the resume to be in Congress, at least not yet.”
“This is not a normal election for the sixth.”
Instead, it has more to do with his feelings about President Trump.
“This is not a normal election for the sixth,” he said. “It’s a referendum on Trump.”
While Georgia’s sixth district is a traditionally conservative district — it sent Republican Newt Gingrich to Congress for 20 years — Trump won here by just over one point. Romney, meanwhile, carried the district in 2012 by 24 points.
So Whittall is not alone when he says he couldn’t stomach supporting Trump. In November, he voted for Republican Tom Price for Congress, but voted Libertarian for president. Not only did he disagree with Trump on issues like immigration and trade, but he also thought the real estate mogul’s behavior — especially in the Access Hollywood video, in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women — was unfit for the presidency.
After almost 100 days of having Trump act erratically from the White House, Whittall said he sees Tuesday’s election as a potential check on his power.
“If the Georgia sixth flips… it sends a pretty strong message to D.C. and hopefully to the White House, to say, ‘You’ve got to dial it down,’” he said. “‘Stop tweeting. Stop doing stupid stuff. It’s time to bring it back to the center a bit.’”
“Practically everybody I talk to about this race is thinking about it as a referendum on Trump,” he continued.
“Practically everybody I talk to about this race is thinking about it as a referendum on Trump.”
Whittall is not the only Republican in the district who will be supporting Ossoff. Becky Arrington, who started a progressive group called Awakened Accountability, said she hosted a Q&A event with Ossoff recently that was specifically targeted to independents, moderates, and Republicans.
“Come and meet this guy and see what he has to say,” she recalls telling people. “There were actually some Republicans there that left with Jon Ossoff signs.”
Many of them, she said, expressed frustrations with both Trump and the GOP congress.
“I’ve been asked, ‘This is a red state, this is a red area, how do you think you can do this?’” Arrington said. “All bets are off. I think that everybody is much more open and more free-thinking than they have been before.”
And Rich Levy, who leads a group called Galvanize Georgia, said he has also encountered Republicans who plan to vote for Ossoff.
“When I was out canvassing last weekend, I personally went to houses and talked to people who had never voted Democrat before in their lives who are voting for Jon in this election, specifically because he said he would stand up to Trump and they’re not happy with the direction the country is going in,” he said. “Getting one of those households is like a jackpot. That can keep you going for at least another 10 houses.”
Ron Raitz, a district six resident who owns his own business, describes himself as a Libertarian who tends to vote Republican. “There haven’t been too many Democrats around here who I’ve voted for,” he said.
In November he voted for Price, but this week he said he will be voting for Ossoff, partly because he disagrees with Price on health care. He said he’s also heard from friends and neighbors about people who had Trump signs in their yards who now have Ossoff signs.
People also cited the need for bipartisanship in Washington as a reason they’re voting for Ossoff. Raitz described Ossoff as the type of politician who will vote on issues, and not necessarily along party lines. “To go into politics you have to compromise,” he said.
Whittall said that he likes the idea of electing politicians who have to govern from the center.
“If Ossoff is actually elected… he’s going to be a one-term representative unless he can essentially become a centrist,” he said. “If he goes to Washington and votes with Nancy Pelosi on every vote, he’s out in two years, guaranteed. Regardless of his own personal convictions or where the Democratic Party wants to steer him, if he wants to be back after two years, he’s going to become a centrist and represent the sixth, a traditionally conservative district that for various reasons is shifting more to the middle.”
Meanwhile, most of the 11 Republican candidates in the race are hesitant to respond to voters’ distaste for Trump. All but one of them are running on a platform very similar to the president’s.
“The president has great ideas,” Dan Moody, one of the Republicans leading in the polls, told ThinkProgress. “All he needs is people to help him do the hard work.”
“People have gotten annoyed at the comparison that this is some referendum on Trump,” he continued. “It’s not. It’s a referendum on picking the best Republican to replace Tom Price.”
“The president has great ideas. All he needs is people to help him do the hard work.”
Thirty-three year old David Abroms is the only Republican candidate who has publicly denounced Trump. His pitch to voters, he told ThinkProgress, is that they should be rational and not abandon the GOP because Trump is an anomaly.
“You have all this frustration building up around Trump and it’s being channeled to prop up Jon [Ossoff],” he said. “People should think strategically and vote for a Republican that’s willing to stand up to Trump.”
Electing a Republican, Abroms said, would actually send a more powerful message to the White House.
“If Jon were to win, which I think is highly unlikely, and he goes to Washington, he’s just going to be another Democrat voting against Trump,” he said. “If I win and I go to Washington and I’m willing to stand up to Trump, that will send a statement.”