In a result few imagined possible just three months ago, Democrat Jon Ossoff took first place by a wide margin on Tuesday in the special primary election for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, forcing a runoff on June 20 with former Secretary of State Karen Handel, who led a badly fractured GOP field. As of this writing, Ossoff had won 49 percent of the vote compared to 20 for Handel.
For decades, Republicans have dominated this conservative district in the northern Atlanta suburbs that Newt Gingrich once represented: Tom Price, who vacated this seat earlier this year to join Donald Trump’s cabinet, won re-election in November by 23 points, and Mitt Romney did the same four years earlier. But Trump himself turned out to be deeply unpopular in this affluent, well-educated area and only carried the district by a slim 48-47 margin, according to data first released by Daily Kos Elections.
That one result—the only close election in Georgia’s 6th since forever—gave Democrats a glimmer of hope that perhaps they could put this seat in play. That they did, and exceeded all expectations. Ossoff, an investigative filmmaker who had previously served as a congressional aide, entered the race in January, making a big splash with the endorsement of civil rights legend John Lewis, who represents a nearby seat. Soon after, he earned the support of Daily Kos, whose community shot him on to the map with an unprecedented infusion of over $400,000 in just a week—all in small donations.
That kicked off an amazing positive feedback loop: Ossoff earned a big round of media coverage, which helped him raise more money, build up a national profile, and garner more endorsements … which in turn won him still more press attention, brought in more cash … you get the idea. Ultimately, Ossoff raised a mind-blowing $8.3 million dollars ($1.5 million of which came from Daily Kos), with an average contribution of just $42.
Those numbers crushed the rest of the field, which was badly fractured between 11 different Republican candidates. In fact, things got so dicey in the final weeks that the GOP spent millions attacking Ossoff on the airwaves (trying to tie him to Nancy Pelosi, Osama bin Laden, and Han Solo) because they feared he might capture a majority of the vote on Tuesday and win the election outright.
That didn’t happen, but Ossoff came remarkably close, and now he’ll have the chance to go mano-a-mano with Handel.