There’s never been an off-year election like the one happening in the 6th Congressional District, where voters will pick a replacement for departed U.S. Rep. Tom Price on Tuesday.
The whole political world is watching what happens here, and is sending money on top of that. This is a campaign where more contributions have come from outside the state than from Georgia residents.
The special election has taken on national significance because it’s the first real referendum on the Donald Trump administration, which has been in office for less than 100 days.
The 6th District has usually been a GOP-leaning area, represented over the years by Republicans Price, Johnny Isakson and Newt Gingrich. But in last November’s balloting, Trump carried the district by fewer than 2 percentage points.
Democrats spotted an opening when Price decided to leave office to join the Trump administration. The candidate who first stepped forward with a “Make Trump Furious” message was Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker and former congressional aide.
The 30-year-old Ossoff, who looks more like a computer geek than a politician, has become the beneficiary of a flood of money from anti-Trump activists. He has raised $8.3 million in contributions, nearly twice as much as the other 17 candidates combined. The bulk of his donations have come from outside the state, with a big assist from the liberal website Daily Kos.
He’s using that money to blanket the airwaves with commercials and to get people canvassing potential voters. At one point, Ossoff even had actress Alyssa Milano out to do some celebrity door-knocking on his behalf, offering to give voters a ride to the polls.
There has been a strong pushback from Republicans, who account for 11 of the 18 candidates on the crowded ballot. The Congressional Leadership Fund in Washington, which has ties to House Speaker Paul Ryan, has spent nearly $3 million running TV spots that attack Ossoff.
Some of these attack ads ring a familiar bell with Georgia voters: they try to link Ossoff with Osama bin Laden, based on the fact that Ossoff’s film company was once paid $5,000 by the Al Jazeera media network.
Saxby Chambliss tried a similar tactic when he was running against Max Cleland in the 2002 Senate race, running ads that accused Cleland of having connections to Osama bin Laden. Those attack ads worked for Chambliss. Will they work again 15 years later?
Out of that field of GOP candidates, the polls indicate that the frontrunners are former Secretary of State Karen Handel, former state legislators Judson Hill and Dan Moody, and former Johns Creek councilman Bob Gray.
Handel and Hill have raised just under $500,000 apiece in contributions, but the other Republicans in this race are digging deeply into their own pockets to fund their campaigns.
Moody has raised a total of $2.02 million, but $1.92 million of that is his own money. In other words, 94.7 percent of Moody’s campaign cash is coming out of personal funds.
Gray has raised $717,500, with $500,000 coming out of his own pocket. Gray is providing 69.7 percent of his campaign account.
At least those are candidates who actually have a shot at sticking around.
Accountant William Llop, a Republican with no chance of winning, has put $406,250 in personal funds into his campaign. Businessman Kurt Wilson, another Republican with little chance of winning, is spending $200,000 of his own money, while David Abroms is using $250,000 in personal funds.
They might just as well take that money and flush it down a commode, for all the good it is doing them. Such is the madness that this particular election has inspired.
The dynamics of the race come down to the basics. Democrats hope that anti-Trump sentiment is strong enough to give Ossoff, who’s now at 40 to 43 percent in the polls, just over 50 percent of the vote on April 18. That would enable him win without a runoff.
Republicans assume that Ossoff won’t get that majority and will be pulled into a June 20 runoff, where the GOP vote would consolidate against him and enable whoever makes it into the runoff to win.
It’s an amazing story either way, which is why the nation’s eyes are on Georgia for the next week.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report.