Jon Ossoff, a relatively unknown progressive documentary filmmaker, handily led all other contenders on Tuesday in a special election in a GOP-leaning Georgia congressional district viewed as a bellwether for voter sentiment on President Trump’s first months in office.
When all of the votes are counted, it was expected that he would fall short of the 50% threshold to win the seat outright — as many Democrats had hoped — and will face a runoff against a Republican, Karen Handel. That race will be even more difficult for Ossoff, as Republicans are expected to coalesce behind her candidacy after spreading their votes in Tuesday’s vote among more than a dozen contenders.
Still, Ossoff’s showing was a surprise for a Democrat in a district that has been held for decades by Republicans, including Newt Gingrich and most recently by Tom Price until he was confirmed as Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services.
“We have defied the odds, we have shattered expectations,” Ossoff told supporters on Tuesday, predicting that he would win no matter if he reached the 50% or faced a runoff in June.
Ossoff, 30, campaigned heavily on the idea that he would be a check on Trump after an erratic first few months in office. Ossoff got a boost from a number of progressive groups, especially the website Daily Kos, and, in a recent ad spot, made light of Trump’s use of Twitter.
A number of Hollywood figures, dismayed by Trump’s election and first weeks in office, shelled out contributions in support of his campaign. Connie Britton, John Leguizamo, Rosie O’Donnell, Sam Waterston and Jane Fonda were among those who gave, as Ossoff raised more than $8.3 million for the race.
As polls showed Ossoff within striking distance of winning the seat, Republicans began to boost spending in the district with ad spots attacking him. Trump himself recorded a radio commercial, and on Tuesday sent a series of tweets urging Republicans to get out and vote.
“Force runoff and easy win! Dem Ossoff will raise your taxes — very bad on crime and 2nd A.”
Democrats hope that the better-than-expected showing by Ossoff will be a prelude to a shift in voter sentiment come 2018.
They already have been reaching out to Hollywood donors to raise money for races next year.
Last week, Shonda Rhimes hosted Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at her Hancock Park home for a $10,000-per-couple event for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is headlining an event on Friday for Senate Democratic candidates.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who is up for reelection in 2018, is scheduled for an event on Wednesday at the Santa Monica home of architect Frank Gehry and his wife Berta. Tickets start at $1,000 per person, and ch-chairs include Will Ferrell, Bruce Corwin and Joe Calabrese.
The next night, Sen. Kamala Harris (D.Calif.) is holding a $1,000-per-person event for her leadership PAC, Fearless for the People, at the home of Scooter Braun and his wife Yael. Co-hosts are Kevin Huvane and Glen Dake.
On Saturday, Cory Booker is scheduled to attend a $1,000-per-person event for his re-election campaign at the home of Jon Vein and Ellen Goldsmith-Vein. Co-hosts include John Gile, Wendy Gruel and Steve Westly.