The counter-Trump movement will have its first major political test this week.
CHAMBLEE, GEORGIA — People in the northern Atlanta metro area like to share their political “coming out stories.”
They’re referring to the first moment they posted about their progressive political views on their Facebook page after President Trump was elected, or the first time they attended an event hosted by the local Indivisible chapter, or the time they stuck a Jon Ossoff sign on their lawn in the predominantly conservative sixth district of Georgia.
“I never knew there were so many Democrats in this area,” 72-year-old Charlotte Holland told ThinkProgress Saturday as she made phone calls for Ossoff. “I always felt like the outsider.” She said that changed in January after she returned from a bus trip to Washington, D.C. for the Women’s March, when she decided she had to “do something more to actually get someone up there in Congress who would represent us.”
Holland is a familiar face at Ossoff’s Chamblee field office, where she stops by almost every day to make calls and help train other volunteers. “This has been very interesting because apparently there are a lot of Democrats in this area,” she said laughing. “It’s so heartening.”
With just one day to go until the district holds a special election to fill the U.S. House seat vacated by Tom Price, President Trump’s pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services, thousands of voters are coming out to help Ossoff defy the odds. Some have been involved in Democratic politics in the area for decades, while others were not political until Trump took office in January. Many were uncomfortable openly sharing their progressive views in the GOP stronghold.
“Not to take away from the coming out of the closet phenomenon, but we feel more comfortable to say what we really think or to speak up and be political, now that we know we’re not alone,” said district six resident Emile Toufighian.
Last year, Toufighian launched Liberal Moms of Roswell and Cobb as a Facebook group, and membership has grown exponentially since Trump’s inauguration. Since Ossoff launched his campaign earlier this year and emerged the Democratic frontrunner — one that stands a chance of making history with a win in the so-called jungle primary — the group has turned into a grassroots army, with members canvassing, phone banking, and doing their part to send Ossoff to Washington.
They’re not the only ones. Dozens of other local groups have dedicated time and money to his campaign, giving voters angry with Trump and Congressional Republicans an outlet for their frustrations.
For his part, Ossoff insists the race is more than a referendum on Trump. “It’s about local issues before it’s about national politics,” he told ThinkProgress Saturday. “House races are local elections.” But the sheer numbers of volunteers involved — and more than $8 million in money flowing into the district, more than any other Georgia congressional candidate potentially ever — proves otherwise.
So far this year, the resistance movement has filled lawmakers’ town halls, the National Mall, and the streets of cities across the country. But can it translate into electoral victories?
“The eyes of the whole country are on us right now,” Ossoff told supporters in one of his four field offices Saturday. “We are the first up to bat.”
A record-breaking haul
A benefit of being one of the first electoral contests in the post-Trump era is that the national spotlight translates directly into campaign donations. As of early April, Ossoff had raised more than $8.3 million: 17 times more than his nearest competitors. Roughly 95 percent of that amount has come from out of state.
For one congressional race, that kind of spending is astounding.
As a result, the Ossoff campaign has been able to connect with voters on a scale larger than any Democrat here in decades. He has taken out radio and television advertising across the district, to the point where residents say they can no longer watch TV or turn on their car radios without seeing his face.
The money has also brought other advantages. The campaign has been able to include usually-ignored demographics in the district by taking out ads in Spanish-language media and canvassing in diverse enclaves.
The local field offices are also well-equipped to handle the influx of volunteers pouring in from both Georgia and across the country. Stacks of laptops await volunteers who come in to phone bank, and there’s a constant stream of people stopping by with food and supplies.
Still, if Ossoff doesn’t get 50 percent of the vote on Tuesday, the race will move to a run-off in June. Two additional months would give the Republican Party time to mobilize behind their candidate, and spend a potentially equally large sum of money to avoid an embarrassing defeat.
But to Ossoff and his supporters, a run-off isn’t an option being publicly considered at this point.
“The word that should not be said,” one supporter laughed when another mentioned the possibility during a phone-banking session. “We’re not having a run-off!”
A grassroots army
While money can carry a campaign far, another reason people are hopeful about flipping the district is the number of volunteers, activists, and Ossoff supporters flooding the area, and the number of groups organizing them.
According to Ezra Levin, executive director of the Indivisible Guide team, there are 19 Indivisible chapters in the district.
Rich Levy, who leads Galvanize Georgia, one of the local Indivisible groups, told ThinkProgress there is more energy and awareness about this race than he has ever seen.
“I have people from New York calling me asking how they can help,” he said. “I have other Indivisible chapters reaching out to us saying how can we get involved, and it’s at every level… It’s a different energy.”
On Saturday, one of the last canvassing days before the election, volunteers knocked on tens of thousands of doors and exhausted an internal list of phone numbers to call, according to one campaign volunteer.
“It gives people something to do,” Becky Arrington, who started a local group she calls Awakened Accountability, told ThinkProgress about the campaign. “People are so galvanized after this election that they want to do something. I call my senators all the time but that doesn’t give you as much of a charge, as if you’re really making a difference like if you get involved in something like this.”
“People are so upset,” she continued. “They see everything that they believe in going by the wayside, and this gives them a point of action.”
The resistance ahead
Ossoff hesitates to make any kind of predictions about what the energy in his district means about future races. “The national political press is seeking national implications in everything,” he told ThinkProgress, speaking slowly and deliberately, his signature style. “House races are local elections. I’m focused on local economic issues.”
But it’s hard not to think about what the energy here could mean for upcoming races. Montana will hold a special election next month for Ryan Zinke’s seat, and Democrats are already pushing for another upset.
And then there’s 2018, when every single Republican House member will have to defend his or her seat — a feat that could be more difficult in states where Trump remains unpopular.
According to Swing Left, a group that tries to connect engaged voters with districts that could move to Democrats, 53 seats will be competitive.
For now, all eyes are on Georgia’s sixth, which could be a sign of whether there is enough interest in making local elections referendums on the president. Holland, for one, thinks it can be done.
“I’d love to send Trump this little love letter of ‘F you,’” she said.