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Alex Brandon AP/Press Association Images

Young upstart on course to dish out embarrassing defeat for Donald Trump

A by-election win for Democrat Jon Ossoff in Atlanta, Georgia, would be a major blow for Trump.

VOTERS WENT TO the polls today in a special election in the US state of Georgia in which a young political novice is carrying the hopes of Democrats seeking to jumpstart a resistance movement against President Donald Trump.

Jon Ossoff, 30, hopes to capitalise on Trump’s lacklustre popularity and make the race for a congressional seat long-held by Republicans a litmus test of the president’s first 100 days.

“We are certainly going for an outright win here today. But a special election is special. It is difficult to predict,” he said today on CNN.

“It will come down to turnout. Because it’s all about turnout – the most important thing people can do is get to the polls.”

Ossoff, who is leading the field of 18 candidates, stressed that the race is about local economic issues “before it is about the national political circus.”

“Everyone is looking for national implications, but all politics is local,” he said.

But a first round win for Ossoff would be the first blow in what is shaping up to be a bitter, 18-month battle for control of the US Congress in the 2018 elections that come halfway through Trump’s presidential term.

Should he secure an upset, it would mark a stunning embarrassment for the president and signal that next year’s mid-term elections are essentially up for grabs.

But the documentary filmmaker and former congressional aide must upset history first.

Georgia’s 6th District is in the relatively affluent and conservative suburbs of Atlanta. It has remained a Republican fortress since 1978 when it was won by Newt Gingrich, the future speaker of the House of Representatives who led a Republican revolution in the 1990s.

Ossoff is running in a special election there to replace Tom Price, who gave up his seat to become Trump’s health secretary.

“This election is about deciding the things that unite us are stronger than the things that divide us,” Ossoff tweeted yesterday.

Trump weighed in today, urging Republicans to get to the polls, and tweeting: “Democrat Jon Ossoff would be a disaster in Congress.”

ossoff Donald J Trump Donald J Trump

Run-off possible

Under normal circumstances, a Republican win would be in little doubt. But Trump’s approval rating lags at around 40% in a Gallup tracking poll – a record low for an incoming president.

A new Gallup poll shows just 45% of Americans think Trump will keep his campaign promises, down from 62% who believed he would in early February.

First-time candidate Ossoff leads the race, polling at 42.5% — far ahead of the top four Republican candidates, none of whom is drawing more than 17%.

If nobody finishes above 50%, the race goes to a 20 June run-off that is expected to pit Ossoff against one of the Republican hopefuls.

A run-off would likely be close, and should Republicans regroup and coalesce strongly around their candidate they could keep the seat.

So Democrats see today as their best chance for victory. Ossoff has marshalled an army of volunteers, and reportedly amassed millions of dollars in out-of-state contributions by Democratic groups.

Part of what is fueling Democratic excitement about the race is that while Trump won Georgia by six percentage points, the district that Ossoff seeks to win supported Trump by barely one point over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

It has a large proportion of well-educated voters who are reliably Republican but frustrated by Trump.

The race has quickly gained national attention, becoming the 11th most expensive election in House history, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution has reported that Republicans and Democrats have spent a combined $14 million on ad blitzes to sway the special election.

Last week, a Democrat challenging for an open congressional seat in a deep-red district in Kansas fell short of an upset.

The Democrat lost that race by seven percentage points, but the party sought to spin the result as a positive, pointing out that Trump won the district in November by 27 points.

© – AFP, 2017

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