Democrats are fired up for comeback as a 30-year-old liberal tries to do the unthinkable in Georgia

Despite a recent loss in a special House race in Kansas, liberal voters and operatives have emerged energised about their chances in an upcoming runoff in Georgia’s 6th district, a May special election in Montana, and the party’s overall chances at flipping a number of House seats in the 2018 midterms and reducing the GOP’s 44-seat majority in the House.

Rachel Paule, a grassroots organiser in Georgia, told Business Insider that the biggest indicator she has seen of local Democratic sentiments is the number of “secret liberals who have come out of the woodwork” since President Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 election.

The district in which Paule volunteers has been held by a Republican for the last 40 years — most recently, by current Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price. But the race to fill his seat has been dominated by the rise of former congressional staffer Jon Ossoff as a serious Democratic contender.

A Republican congressman “was just sort of a given, and a lot of people were afraid to speak out because this is such a conservative area,” Paule said of Georgia’s sixth district.

Ossoff’s candidacy spurred Paule and her fellow organisers into action, in large part because many saw Ossoff as their “first chance” to “make a meaningful change by flipping the seat,” Paul said, adding that the last Democratic candidate in the district didn’t campaign, have a website, take donations, or make appearances.

Ossoff failed to break the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff in a vote last week. A runoff for the special election is now set for June 20.

Nonetheless, the Democratic Party is ecstatic about the results — Ossoff received about 48% of the vote, while his closest Republican challenger, Karen Handel, Georgia’s former secretary of state, earned about 20%, albeit in a more crowded Republican field.

“What people have to understand is that Republicans had almost no spin coming out of Georgia,” a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee staffer told Business Insider in an interview.

“They said Ossoff would never make it above 40%. In a district that Republicans usually win by 20-26%, Ossoff got 48.1,” the source said. “It’s incredible.”

Paule said she and other liberals in the community were “really excited” about the results and said the campaign so far as been “really inspiring.”

Leading up to the runoff between Ossoff and Handel, Paule said she and other volunteers are focusing primarily on canvassing.

“What we really need are people hitting the pavement. We need people to knock on doors at every corner of the district, people to call oters, and more face-to-face contact to ensure they come out in droves this June,” Paule said.

Democrats are also hopeful that Ossoff can exploit potential weaknesses they believe Handel possesses among suburban conservative voters. A spike in Democratic turnout and a decrease in GOP turnout could swing the district Ossoff’s way come June.

“She’s known for waging ideological wars, and she was a big spender when she was [Georgia’s] secretary of state,” the DCCC source said. “That’s the kind of stuff that turns off Republicans who are fiscally conservative.”

On to Montana

Ossoff’s campaign, especially if he’s successful in the runoff, could become something of a model for Democrats over the next year and into the 2018 midterm elections, according to the DCCC staffer, who claimed Republicans are “stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

Democrats are hopeful that voter enthusiasm against Trump and strong grassroots organising could swing congressional races if discontent over the GOP’s lack of effectiveness in Washington decreases Republican turnout.

Democrats in Montana are similarly looking to capitalise on liberal anger and potential conservative apathy by running Rob Quist, a folk singer with a populist streak, for Montana’s House seat in the May special election.

While Quist’s first rally in Montana in March drew about 70 people, recent rallies have seen hundreds of attendees, according to The Huffington Post.

Washington Democrats initially paid little, if any, attention to the race, which is being held to fill the seat left vacant by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. When The Huffington Post asked South Carolina representative Jim Clyburn, the DCCC’s national mobilization chair, if the committee was planning on getting more involved, Clyburn didn’t seem to even know the race was happening.

But after Democrats’ surprisingly strong showings in Kansas and Georgia, the DCCC feels differently about Quist’s chances in Montana.

“We’re actually watching it really closely,” the DCCC source said. The committee announced that it would be injecting a six-figure amount into the Montana state party to boost Quist’s campaign, DCCC spokesperson Meredith Kelly told The Huffington Post on Thursday.

After a close call in Georgia’s special election, the NRCC also poured $US1.2 million in ad buys ahead of Montana’s special election.

The energy gap

Donald Trump

Scott Olson/Getty Images
Donald Trump.

While Democrats say the remaining 2017 special elections and the 2018 midterms will be a dogfight, Republicans have been wary of a shifting tide in the political sentiment in the country.

A Republican operative familiar with the races said a major concern for the GOP was that the party’s base could be complacent after Trump’s victory.

“The energy we’ve seen, there’s been a slight downtick, which I think is natural coming off a very contentious election that we won,” the operative told Business Insider before the first round of the Georgia special election.

The operative added that the liberal opposition to Trump was “energised from the get-go” and would be out in full force for these upcoming elections. Republicans will have to ensure their base is, as the operative said, “reengaged.”

Republicans have also seen the energy with which Democrats have fundraised for special elections. Ossoff hauled in approximately $US8.3 million in the first quarter of 2017.

“You see $US8.3 million, that’s a significant chunk that somebody can run in their district,” said one GOP operative familiar with the race. “Essentially, that’s what somebody usually raises for a statewide campaign, not an off-year, early special election.”

The operative also said that he hadn’t seen previous fundraising efforts come close to Ossoff’s war chest, saying that Ossoff’s donations came from liberals who are “fired up” about Donald Trump.

“That’s very clear. The liberal base dislikes Donald Trump.”

The DCCC raised a record $US13.6 million in online donations in the first quarter, compared to the NRCC’s $US1.7 million in online donations. The NRCC still outpaced the DCCC in overall donations, however, raising $US36 million compared to the DCCC’s $US31 million.

Nevertheless, Democrats are focused on drawing out liberals who are angry with Trump and concentrating on what they characterise as the administration’s missteps.

‘Business as usual’

Donald Trump and Paul Ryan

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Donald Trump and Paul Ryan

The first few months into the Trump presidency have been rocky for the president and his party, whose progress has been hindered by White House infighting, failed attempts at implementing a travel ban, and a failure to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare reform law.

Though Trump and Republican leadership were working hard to drum up support for the American Health Care Act, an Obamacare replacement bill, in March, many conservatives in Congress faced angry constituents who demanded they vote against the AHCA and keep the ACA in place, while working to amend it.

During a town hall held by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, constituents came out in force against the AHCA.

“I’m on Obamacare. If it wasn’t for Obamacare, we wouldn’t be able to afford insurance,” said Chris Peterson, a farmer from Grassley’s state. “With all due respect, sir, you’re the man that talked about the death panel. We’re going to create one big death panel in this country if people can’t afford insurance.”

Republican Rep. David Brat of Virginia faced similar outrage from his constituents for claiming that Obamacare had “collapsed.”

Moreover, since Trump took office in January, some of his core voters have become disaffected. His authorization of a military strike on targets of Syrian Bashar al-Assad’s regime following a devastating chemical weapons attack infuriated supporters who had voted for him because of the isolationist “America First” stance he’d adopted throughout his campaign.

“Trump campaigned on not getting involved in Mideast. Said it always helps our enemies & creates more refugees. Then he saw a picture on TV,” tweeted conservative firebrand and ardent Trump supporter Ann Coulter.

And all that has Democrats cautiously optimistic.

“The preconditions for a good election cycle are there,” the DCCC source said. “But it’s still early and things can change.”

Maxwell Tani and Allan Smith contributed to this report.

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