A day ahead of a high-profile special election in Georgia, President Donald Trump inserted himself in the race with a sharp attack on the top Democratic candidate.
On Twitter Monday, Trump criticized Jon Ossoff, who is leading a crowded field of candidates in the race to replace former Rep. Tom Price, who stepped down to become the president’s Secretary of Health and Human Services.
“The super Liberal Democrat in the Georgia Congressioal [sic] race tomorrow wants to protect criminals, allow illegal immigration and raise taxes!” Trump tweeted.
Ossoff responded with a statement, “While I’m glad the President is interested in the race, he is misinformed. I’m focused on bringing fresh leadership, accountability, and bipartisan problem solving to Washington to cut wasteful spending and grow metro Atlanta’s economy into the Silicon Valley of the South.”
Ossoff is hoping to break 50 percent in Tuesday’s unusual all-party primary. If he falls short of that threshold but still comes in first, the Democrat will face off against the second-place finisher, who most likely will be a Republican, in a June runoff. If there’s a runoff, Ossoff would be seen as the underdog in the conservative district.
Recent polls show Ossoff running several percentage points below the 50% threshold.
Trump’s unpopularity made this race competitive and he’s loomed over it since picking Price to join his Cabinet late last year. Many are watching the race closely as a early indicator of potential anti-Trump Democratic wave in next year’s midterm elections.
Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, a stretch of wealthy and highly educated suburbs North of Atlanta, is a traditional Republican stronghold. But Trump only narrowly won the district in November after Mitt Romney had carried by over 20 percentage points in 2012. It’s not hard to find local Republican voters displeased with Trump’s presidency so far.
That’s caused most of the 11 Republican candidates in the race to steer clear of Trump, keenly aware of his low approval ratings.
Ossoff too has mostly stopped talking about Trump, to whom he owes so much of his success.
The 30-year-old first-time-candidate kicked off his campaign with a fundraising plea to “Make Trump Furious” and went on to raise a record-shattering $8.3 million in the first three months of the year. Over 90% of that came from outside district as liberals across the country contributed to his campaign as a way to fight Trump.
But the anti-Trump message got Ossoff only so far, so he has switched to a nonpartisan message of pragmatism that he hopes will make conservative-leaning independents and soft Republicans feel comfortable voting for a Democrat.
National Republicans have responded by trying to portray Ossoff as Nancy Pelosi “yes man” and left-wing radical to prevent those same voters from switching sides.
In that sense, Trump’s tweet is on-message and may be cheered by even Trump-skeptical Republicans for using his large megaphone to inject that message into the bloodstream the day before the critical vote.