Democrat Jon Ossoff came within a hair’s breadth of dealing a major blow to President Trump on Tuesday night, leading a crowded field of almost a dozen Republicans but falling just short of winning a Georgia Congressional seat outright.
With 185 of 210 precincts reporting, he held 48.3 percent of the vote - just shy of the 50 percent he needed to become the first Democrat to represent Atlanta’s affluent northern suburbs since the 1970s.
“This is already a victory for the ages. We have defied the odds, we have shattered expectations,” Ossoff, who attended a Reform synagogue as a child, told a cheering crowd of supporters.
The result sets up a June 20 runoff with Republican Karen Handel, who was headed to a second-place finish with 19.5 percent of the vote. The nation will likely be focused on the little-known Jewish candidate for weeks as he seeks to make the race a referendum on Trump’s rocky start in office.
Despite Ossoff’s big lead, Trump claimed victory and said he was “glad to be of help” in blocking the Democrat from winning outright.
Despite major outside money, FAKE media support and eleven Republican candidates, BIG “R” win with runoff in Georgia. Glad to be of help!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 19, 2017
Ossoff’s bid for Congress might have seemed quixotic based on the district’s history. It has been held by Republicans – including former House speaker Newt Gingrich – for more than three decades.
But Trump carried the district by less than two points. Running on a promise to “make Trump furious,” Ossoff’s campaign was tailor-made for suburbanites already suspicious of the new White House.
Democrats are hoping to retake the House of Representatives next fall, and they have seen reason to be optimistic in the president’s low and falling poll numbers.
In order to do so, the party will have to capture at least 25 Republican seats, an endeavor that could lead through a district like Georgia’s 6th - where voters have traditionally leaned Republican, but are not sold on the president’s agenda.
Ossoff grew up in Georgia’s Sixth District, born to a Jewish father and Australian mother. He interned as a high school student with John Lewis, the civil rights hero and Democratic congressman.
After studying education at Georgetown and then the London School of Economics, he became a national security staffer on Capitol Hill. Prior to his congressional run, Ossoff produced a documentary for the BBC about the Islamic state’s atrocities in Iraq.
Daniel J. Solomon is the Assistant to the Editor/News Writer at the Forward. Originally from Queens, he attended Harvard as an undergraduate, where he wrote his senior thesis on French-Jewish intellectual history. He is excited to have returned to New York after his time in Massachusetts. Daniel’s passions include folk music, cycling, and pointed argument.