A week later, a coda on Ossoff’s 6th District campaign

Sixth District congressional candidate Jon Ossoff with his fiancé Alisha Kramer on Tuesday. AJC/Jason Getz

Jon Ossoff’s campaign for Georgia’s 6th District is at once tantalizing and haunting for Democrats preparing for next year’s midterms.

He raised more money than any other U.S. House candidate in history and transformed the contest for a safely Republican district into a nail-biter with sweeping national implications. And he lost that race by 4 points despite more than $30 million on his behalf and the weight of the Democratic Party behind him.

He rose from obscurity to become a face of the movement to thwart Donald Trump and a sudden star of the left. And the nationalization of the race contributed to his downfall, fueling turnout in a district where Republicans outnumbered Democrats.

Ossoff cast it his own way in a Washington Post editorial published late Monday: “I was defeated. But we put up a hell of a fight.”

“I launched this campaign believing that America can become stronger, more prosperous and more secure only if we stay true to the values that unite us,” he wrote. “I still believe that, and I’m not done fighting.”

Democrats poring over the lessons from his defeat will find few easy answers, and Ossoff’s supporters are plagued with what-ifs:

Should he have gone harder on Trump, or should he have laid off the president? Should he have stopped trying to navigate the treacherous tightrope of appealing to both liberals and moderates? What would the race have looked like had he moved to the district before he announced?

Democrat Jon Ossoff. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

To Ossoff supporters, the race starts and ends with the cold, hard calculus of the district’s demographics.

Before the vote, one pollster compared the turnout to a bell-curve: Extremely low or high turnout would help Ossoff, but that anything closer to traditional levels would buoy Handel.

Ossoff’s campaign, though, had already quietly charted a red-line: His strategists calculated that one quarter-million votes or above would spell doom. Republicans outnumbered Democrats in the district, and a high turnout meant both sides were energized.

The election drew nearly 260,000 votes. As Ossoff pollster John Anzalone told Politico: “We just ran out of Democrats and independents.”

Case in point: A New York Times analysis found that Democrats and Republicans voted at roughly the same rate in last week’s runoff – encouraging for Democrats used to being outgunned in special elections. About 10,000 more 6th District voters cast ballots for Ossoff in the special election than they did for Barack Obama in 2012. He succeeded in capturing younger and irregular voters who rarely cast ballots in special elections.

Still, when the district’s demographics already skews toward the GOP, that kind of turnout surge from both sides of the aisle yielded a wider-than-expected Republican win.

Then there’s the questions of messaging. And the Trump question is one of the most tempting. Ossoff entered the race with a stark promise to stand up to the president, and his “make Trump furious” mantra helped fuel his prodigious fundraising. But he later toned down the tough-talk – and the motto – in an attempt to woo moderates and independents.

That two-pronged messaging was aimed at independents Ossoff was desperate to win: Even as he stuck to centrist-sounding promises of cutting wasteful spending and turning the district into the “Silicon Valley of the South,” he took liberal positions on climate change and the minimum wage.

One of the most striking moments came during the first of their two debates, when each candidate was asked to name one fight they would never give up in Congress. Handel said it was to stave off tax increases. Ossoff, without hesitating, said it was voting rights.

Some campaign experts have questioned why he didn’t deliver sharper blows against the president – especially when Trump directly attacked him in a swirl of tweets and robo-calls.

Chip Lake is a GOP consultant in Georgia and go-to analyst in deciphering the race, often quoted in our pages and in stories around the nation. He was quick to conceded Ossoff “ran a good campaign” but questioned whether the hands-off approach to Trump hurt him in a district where the president has struggled.

“He ran the runoff like Trump was an invisible man,” he said, “despite image ratings for Trump that were upside down in the district.”

Others say he was too civil, though 6th District voters often saw a sharper-edged Ossoff that belied his national image.

Karen Handel won the 6th District vote by about 4 points. Curtis Compton,ccompton@ajc.com

Among them was the barrage of ads and events that labeled Handel as “unforgivable” for her role in cutting ties with Planned Parenthood at a breast-cancer charity. That decision, he said on the campaign trail, jeopardized the health of countless women.

The unprecedented fundraising haul brought him heaps of attention, though it also opened him to attacks that his campaign was powered by out-of-state donors. His attempts to counter by arguing that national GOP groups backing Handel raised much of their money from shadowy interests struggled to break through.

The ground-game numbers his campaign claims in a memo are staggering: More than 100 paid field team operatives, 300-plus local precinct captains and 12,000 volunteers who completed more than 1 million door-knocks. A majority of 6th District residents told AJC pollsters they were contacted in-person by his campaign.

The deluge that turned suburban Atlanta into a national battleground was invigorating to some, exhausting to others. Residents across the district shared stories of receiving two, three, four fliers from his campaign – on a single day. Some begged for advice on how to stop the calls, text messages and door-knocks; many said that they didn’t stop even after they voted early.

In the end, one of his biggest challenges was one that was surmountable: He didn’t live in the district – he lived a few miles south of the area near Emory University – and he was reminded of that fact with attack ads and campaign broadsides throughout the election. Handel said she pressed the issue even more after hearing an increasing amount of feedback about it closer to last week’s runoff.

The Democrat’s supporters saw a no-win situation: Even a late move to the 6th District wouldn’t have inoculated him to barbs that he was not “one of us” and that he was a shrewd opportunist.

Ossoff has yet to decide whether to run again next year, and other Democrats eyeing the race are waiting for his decision. His supporters, though, laid the groundwork for another bid in a closing memo penned by campaign manager Keenan Pontoni.

“We never stopped trying to get out each and every single vote,” he wrote. “And we defied the odds.”

Reader Comments 0

125 comments
Ruthie Brown
Ruthie Brown

It has been proven that an internet cite Kaspersky is made by the Russians and used By the Pentagon, and Putin has threatened the U S A if er stop using Kaspersky!! The Russians did and can hack America!

Amber Corbitt Cimadevilla
Amber Corbitt Cimadevilla

Do you folks not get it? He could've delivered hate bombs all day long & it wouldn't have made a difference!!!

Anthony Archer
Anthony Archer

ossoff what a joke more like a puppet you know like Pinocchio

Marvin Junior
Marvin Junior

I agree he shouldn't have worried about Trump suckers feelings. More of us can't stand that low life a hole.

Jenny Itkin
Jenny Itkin

I know this is difficult for people to believe, especially in these times, but as someone who worked for Ossoff and met and spoke with him more than once...Jon Ossoff is a decent human being unlike our current president.

Lexa King
Lexa King

He should ha e moved into the district a d should have run non stop ads with her saying she was against a living wage. Pretty obvious.

Leon Brooker
Leon Brooker

On a bigger note. Someone should subpoena the software used to tabulate these votes and check the voting machines for possible security breeches. In the presidential as well as this and more than likely other local elections the g.o.p. incumbent has far exceeded prognosticators predictions of support. They should check the voter registration records as well and match them against the number of eligible registered g.o.p. voters (that have legal i.d.s, they require by law). I suspect their would be some discrepancy. Just a guess.....

Melanie Barrett
Melanie Barrett

AJC, just go with the weather excuse and save yourselves the energy of defending your globally funded community organizer, Assoff. Atlanta will never be D.C., L.A., Chicago, Detroit, Ferguson, or Philadelphia. And thank God for that.

Jeri Henson Dies
Jeri Henson Dies

BIG PROBLEM: Trump and his stooge Kobach are already planning on suppressing Democratic voters in the next two elections--Democrats--Bernie--No One appears to be doing anything constructive to stop this cheating to win.

Bryan de Klerk
Bryan de Klerk

You'll need more illegals and dead voters to win. Just saying.

Carlis Spivey
Carlis Spivey

The democrats can't buy every body as much as they would like to But they lost and will continue to lose as long as they keep going down the same old path

Wayne Parker
Wayne Parker

Some times it is the candidate that loses.

David Lee Underwood
David Lee Underwood

is that how you win elections ?. bashing trump ? . good for nothing .. no wonder he lost .

Elizabeth Vogel
Elizabeth Vogel

Oh that's the answer, "he wasn't mean enough" that sould be the lesson here...

Brian Gary
Brian Gary

Maybe because Trump has been the only POTUS (or politician for that matter) who has kept his campaign promises. Or it could be that he realized if he got personal with our POTUS, he would have to deal with being exposed for the 30 year old, cohabiting, basement dweller that he is. Keep throwing your money behind this type of candidate. I hear there's a brilliant 6 yo here in GA that knows just how to bring socialism to our state. The AJC is unfit to wrap fish in at this point. Why don't you try reporting news, without the editorial slime slant you always put on everything?

Marsha Mcginnis
Marsha Mcginnis

We the people are tired of the corrupted democrats party....that why so many democrats are LOSING their seat....I for one am really tired of people and liberal cut President Trump fown...thry need to look at obama and hillary crimes

Kevin Morgan
Kevin Morgan

JFC, are you that stupid? We spent millions upon millions looking for Clinton's "crimes" and even the Republicans in Congress finally had to admit that they had bupkis. What kind of brainwashed fool thinks that the Democrats are corrupt but it's just fine for a Republican president to promote his and his family's personal business interests with public money?

Lexa King
Lexa King

You're kidding, right? The most corrupt person on the planet is in the white house and you talk,about Democratic corruption? SMH.

Linda Sfo
Linda Sfo

Did this jackazz loser, ever give Ms Handle his 'congratulations'? Bet not huh? Typical liberal sore loser.

Dan Zaenglein
Dan Zaenglein

Uhh,maybe because he knew his loss would be worse???

Leon Brooker
Leon Brooker

He ran a center-right politically correct campaign. You have to represent your constituents whole heartedly. If you don't embrace their issues then your in effect saying my campaign is more important than your issues and that is a turn off to his base.

Doris Jackson Cochran
Doris Jackson Cochran

Knew he would lose just like 2018 democrats are going to lose the way they are acting

Lynne Vickers
Lynne Vickers

It would not have helped him. We back our President.

Lynne Vickers
Lynne Vickers

Well I guess there are a lot of us because we elected President Trump and we continue to stand with him to make America great again.

Rocky Buldo
Rocky Buldo

Ga 6th District is ground zero for the so Called Conservative Revolution. 3 decades of AM Radio Culminated in the belief that if the Power IS out of Washington you will not be Governed. Nothing could be further from the truth thus truth is irrelevant. Fear of other Trumps all logical conversation. .

Garry Hyrne
Garry Hyrne

He will be president for 8yrs. and Democrats have all but been voted out of politics. Including this talking head. So suck it up butter cup. You are backing losers...like yourself.

Rocky Buldo
Rocky Buldo

Fact is HRC won the vote of We the People. But Congratulations on that self defeating " Starve the Beast" thing. A wise man once said "Reject the Politics of Scarcity " Ronald Reagan. America Squandered the dignity and Gravitas of Electing the Leader of the Free world.

Brian Gary
Brian Gary

Rocky Buldo, I just checked and guess what? Trump is still POTUS, and Hillary is not \U0001f602\U0001f602\U0001f602. Neither is Bernie, although he and his wonder wife are now both under investigation for defrauding banks on their University scheme, and for trying to use his political power to impede a federal investigation. Hillary won the "popular vote"? LMAO! The left has been PROVEN to be corrupt liars and cheaters in the 2016 election. Even though Trump has been accused of it, not a SINGLE SHRED OF PROOF has been provided, ZERO! Bwahahaha! So tonight, rest a little better knowing our founding fathers recognized the perils of our political system, and they created a system that could stop the take over and destruction of OUR Republic. The people have spoken, and President Trump is the unquestionable winner. I can't wait to see Hillary in an orange jumpsuit behind bars, and that magnificent wall be built! MAGA!!!

Rocky Buldo
Rocky Buldo

Thanks for proving my point about the never ending story of Insta gate sold over 30 years of AM Radio " Programming ".. Enjoy that Anti Gubmint WWE TV Reality Show while it lasts. Since I'm so clueless can anyone tell me what the Conservative Revolution conserved? Eventually a harsh reality sets in, everything is Left of the Alt Right.

Ric Honsa
Ric Honsa

Rocky Buldo ha, we president now, and praise kek

Wilma Jones
Wilma Jones

Because he was trying to run on Trumps agenda

Rod Miller
Rod Miller

Soros wants a refund \U0001f644\U0001f602

George Hancox
George Hancox

Is this a fake news media if you want Obama back move to the U.N. He will take over as King soon

Mike Cowan
Mike Cowan

Keep Him Out....Another Nay-Sayer. If He Don't back Trump.....We don't Want / Need him

Michael Godfrey
Michael Godfrey

Great picture of the "Loser"...in more ways than one! Pathetic candidate and the best the Dems/Libs could come up with says a lot! MAGA!

Steve Holman Jr.
Steve Holman Jr.

Who cares a freshman congressman in the minority makes as much influence as me buying a cup of coffee.

David Wilmoth
David Wilmoth

The way the political map is drawn here in Ga there is no way anyone but a Republican can win. The republicans had the map redrawn when they took over in Ga can we say gerrymandering

Jeff Holley
Jeff Holley

Seriously have you seen Fulton County. That's what democratic gerrymandering look likes!

Frank Shirley
Frank Shirley

He would have been beaten by an even bigger margin had the federal courts not hacked the election with rulings that enabled "new voters" to flood the rolls. Supreme Court needs to step in to slap down Democratic vote fraud efforts.

Greg Lindquist
Greg Lindquist

Not thinking that if Ossoff runs again he can count in another $30 million. He needs to go back to work for daddy.

Doug Rogers
Doug Rogers

He wanted to talk about real issues. The Russian funded PAC that supported Karen Scandle Handel just told lies. It was a perfect example of bottom feeder politics. I believe LBJ explained people like that the best... "I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it,” he said. “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” LBJ

Greg Lindquist
Greg Lindquist

The Russians are coming. You and CNN are both looney.

Bernee Brawn
Bernee Brawn

Hey Doug, remember when Obama said Russia was OLD politics and no longer an issue? Whoopsie.... wrong again?

Freddie Brown
Freddie Brown

This guy escaped his local nut house..........

Doug Rogers
Doug Rogers

So all of you are ok with Russia and Putin deciding who the President will be. You are just fine with Russia deciding which party will run the country. Why do the russians want Republicons in control, because they are easy to bribe. Show a Republicon a little money and you own them. I can remember when people in this country were concerned about Russia, now Republicons embrace Russia.

Doug Rogers
Doug Rogers

Freddie Brown no a village is missing its idiot and now we are stuck with her.

Steve Shepherd
Steve Shepherd

Doug Rogers idiotic...search through history for the president(S) that prospered most while in office...D by the name....Clinton, OBama....etc...time to take another puff off your bong, Doug!

Mike Mathis
Mike Mathis

Dude, your tinfoil hat is way too tight. Please loosen it and show some evidence the Russians rigged anything for Trump.

Doug Rogers
Doug Rogers

Richard Cowan \U0001f595\U0001f595\U0001f595\U0001f595\U0001f595\U0001f595\U0001f595\U0001f595\U0001f595\U0001f595\U0001f595\U0001f595\U0001f595\U0001f595\U0001f595\U0001f595\U0001f595

Doug Rogers
Doug Rogers

Steve Shepherd the President Clinton left office broke. And most of what President Obama made in office and after has gone to charity. You are living proof of all the studies which show the most uninformed viewers watch Fox Fake infotainment

Doug Rogers
Doug Rogers

Bernee Brawn well since our greatest President ever President Obama never said that. Again if you turn off Fox Fake infotainment you might get informed. Hell if you watched no news at all you would be more informed.

Fred Krause III
Fred Krause III

Doug Rogers I've never seen a source for the Russians hacking election offices, poling locations and voting machines. Is there one that isn't just fake news?

Ronald W. Mann
Ronald W. Mann

Russia, Russia, Russia another paranoid lieberal. The Russian economy is barely alive, dont think they are gonna be tossing cash into something that was a foregone conclustion. Now Assoff can go back to filiming for Mikie Moore

Mike Mathis
Mike Mathis

Doug Rogers it's ironic that you used "to" instead of "too" when calling someone stupid? And by all means, show some evidence.

Doug Rogers
Doug Rogers

Fred Krause III there is a young female patriot whistle blower sitting in jail with no bond for leaking the proof.

Doug Rogers
Doug Rogers

Ronald W. Mann and again you have to prove that fox fake infotainment viewers are the least informed. Putin is one of the richest men in the world. His money came from all he stole for the Russian people. Russian oligarchs have amassed hug amount of money that they use all over the world to get even more money. If Putin tells them to send money to Paul welfare baby Ryan or Mitch turtle man McConnell they do it because they know they too can fall out of a window at 3 in the morning while moving a bathtub. Yes Mitch turtle man McConnell has been tied to 22.5 million dollars from Russia to his super PAC. Paul welfare baby Ryan has ties to Russian money in his super PAC. Both spent Russian money to play attack adds against Jon Ossoff. Attack adds that told lies, those adds were targeting uninformed, uneducated people like you.