Georgia Democrats selected Jon Ossoff, who narrowly lost the most expensive House race in United States history in 2017, as their nominee to challenge GOP Sen. David Perdue in November.
Ossoff topped a seven-candidate field that included Teresa Tomlinson, a lawyer and former mayor of Columbus, and Sarah Riggs Amico, a businesswoman who was the Democratic Party’s candidate for lieutenant governor in 2018.
Democrats in the state didn’t expect Ossoff to top the 50% mark necessary to avoid an August runoff, but a strong performance in Atlanta and its suburbs lifted him to a majority of the vote. His victory should allow the party to consolidate behind him earlier than expected.
National Democrats had avoided endorsing in the race after failing to recruit 2018 gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams into the contest, but they are likely to quickly line up behind Ossoff.
The contest was marred by incredibly long lines to vote in many Black neighborhoods, which led many Democrats to suggest Georgia’s Republican leadership was working to suppress the vote.
While President Donald Trump’s unpopularity during the coronavirus pandemic and widespread protests over police brutality have combined with longstanding demographic shifts to potentially put the state in play for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in November, defeating Perdue may prove more difficult.
Perdue, a businessman who self-funded his 2014 election, is the cousin of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, a former Georgia governor. He’s stuck close to Trump on every major issue of his presidency, but his approval ratings in Georgia remain stronger than those of vulnerable incumbent Republicans in states like Arizona and Colorado.
David Perdue also has a financial advantage: He has more than $9.3 million on hand, according to campaign finance records, while Ossoff has less than a million in the bank after spending to win the primary.
Still, operatives in both parties and polling indicate the state could be close in November, and a Biden victory would likely help Ossoff cross the finish line. Neither party’s national political operations have reserved television ad time in the state, a sign that it remains a second-tier contest for now.
Ossoff spent much of the contest airing television ads aimed at the Black voters who make up a majority of the Democratic primary electorate in the state. Two of his ads highlighted the endorsement of Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a legend of the civil rights movement, for whom the 33-year-old Ossoff once worked.
“Friends, I’m calling on you to support Jon Ossoff and send Donald Trump a message he will never forget,” Lewis says in the ad.
The race is one of two Senate contests set for Georgia in November. The other, an all-party contest triggered by the resignation of Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson for health reasons, pits incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler against fellow Republican Rep. Doug Collins and Democrat Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. If no candidate wins 50% of the vote on Election Day, the race will head to a January runoff.
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