Democrat Jon Ossoff said Friday that he won’t make another bid this year for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, leaving it up to lesser-known contenders to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Karen Handel in suburbs north of Atlanta.
“I’m grateful beyond words for the support and hard work of the thousands of Georgians who volunteered with my campaign last year,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “and I’ll be actively supporting Democratic candidates and staying engaged on key issues while I continue my work in investigative journalism.”
Ossoff shattered records by raising nearly $30 million last year for a special election in the district, ultimately losing to Handel by about 4 percentage points in a race that was viewed nationally as an early barometer for Democratic success in conservative-leaning districts during the Donald Trump era.
The former congressional aide had hinted for months that he was eyeing another bid for the seat, telling groups of Democratic donors he’s “not done fighting.” But with qualifying set to start in less than two weeks, and two Democratic challengers already in the race, there seemed little chance of him jumping in.
Handel, the winner of the most expensive U.S. House race in history, has projected an air of confidence since taking office and has not attracted a GOP challenger. Her campaign raised roughly $261,000 in the latest fundraising period and she had nearly $600,000 in cash on hand.
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“I am grateful for the tremendous opportunity to serve the citizens of the 6th Congressional District, and I look forward to working hard to earn their vote,” the Roswell Republican said Friday.
Meanwhile, two Democratic newcomers entered the race last year, when Ossoff’s decision was still uncertain. Former newscaster Bobby Kaple raised and loaned himself roughly $250,000, and businessman Kevin Abel reported collecting more than $200,000 from loans and donors.
Kaple and Abel were undoubtedly relieved by Friday’s news, though there’s a chance Ossoff’s decision could prompt a higher-profile Democrat to join the contest.
“Last year, Jon Ossoff stepped up and ran a campaign that proved a Democrat can be competitive in the 6th District,” Abel said. “I’m confident that after 25 years of raising my family and creating jobs right here in the 6th, I can finish what Jon started and defeat Karen Handel in November.”
Kaple called Ossoff’s campaign “groundbreaking and inspired” and credited it for mobilizing “people across Georgia and the whole country.”
“I’m excited to build on that grass-roots momentum toward victory in November,” he said.
The special election last year to succeed U.S. Rep. Tom Price, who was briefly Trump’s health secretary, attracted 18 candidates and more than $60 million in spending.
The contest set one spending record after another as it became a nationally watched proxy fight over Trump, the health care overhaul and the battle for suburbia. The June 20 runoff drew about 260,000 voters — an eye-popping turnout for this type of special election.
Ossoff, 31, has kept a lower profile since his defeat, though he’s endorsed candidates in competitive legislative races. He’s spurned some party leaders who tried to recruit him to run for lieutenant governor and other posts.
In a series of tweets Friday, he didn’t specify how he planned to stay involved, although he said he asked supporters to join him in “standing with the brave students marching” next month. It’s a reference to a national school walkout planned by gun control advocates in response to the latest mass shooting at a Florida high school.
While “this is not the moment” for another run, Ossoff said, he’s not ruling out a future bid for public office.
“I’m in this with all of you for the long haul,” he wrote.
Ossoff’s political rise last year was swift and surprising, given that most Democratic insiders had no idea who he was when he entered the race to replace Price in January 2017.
What set him apart from his four Democratic opponents initially was his $250,000 in seed money and endorsements from U.S. Reps. John Lewis and Hank Johnson. That caught the attention of the liberal advocacy website the Daily Kos, which helped him raise more than $1 million in the early stages of the race.
As he became a national symbol of the Trump resistance movement, his fundraising snowballed as he attracted money and attention from out of state, including several Hollywood celebrities.
Deep-pocketed Republican super PACs seized on that point to frame Ossoff as an out-of-touch elite. They also spent millions tying him to Nancy Pelosi, the polarizing House Democratic leader.
Ossoff, meanwhile, avoided mentioning both Pelosi and Trump in the final weeks of the race as he sought to win over independents and disgruntled Republicans he needed to capture a seat that had been in GOP hands for a generation.
Eyes on Georgia
The 6th District stretches from north DeKalb County to east Cobb County. It was long considered safe Republican territory, having been represented by Price, Johnny Isakson and Newt Gingrich in the House over the past three decades.
But Trump’s relative unpopularity with well-educated suburban voters has changed the political calculus, and national Democratic groups are once again eyeing the turf.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, House Democrats’ campaign arm, listed the 6th as a prime pickup opportunity for 2018 and is closely watching the race ahead of the May primary as it decides whether to devote substantial resources there. Other Democratic groups have suggested they’re doing the same.
The sunny rhetoric aside, Ossoff’s decision is a blow to Democratic chances to flip the seat, particularly in a midterm election year when there are 434 other U.S. House races competing for donors’ money and attention. Still, party officials said they had high hopes for Abel and Kaple.
“We’ve got great candidates for that district who will be competitive,” said DuBose Porter, the head of the Georgia Democratic Party. “They’ll be part of the blue wave to hit Georgia.”
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