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Democrat Jon Ossoff Hopes Suburban Atlanta District Finally Elects Non-Republican


There's a lot of anticipation in Georgia's 6th Congressional District located in Atlanta's northern suburbs. Results are coming in from today's special election to fill a House seat that's been held by Republicans since 1979 when it was represented by a young Newt Gingrich. Democrats hope to change that today, including voter Margie Lee-Szymanski.

MARGIE LEE-SZYMANSKI: I think Mr. Trump makes this one different. I think the presidential election has woken up a lot of people who were asleep and who are now saying, wait a minute; I better get active.

CORNISH: She's rallying around Democrat Jon Ossoff, who's been - who's gotten support from liberal activists across the country. That makes voter Mike Pancione weary. He supports Republican Karen Handel.

MIKE PANCIONE: I think he's going to be a rubber stamp for Pelosi. I'm an independent, actually. But I think that the Democratic Party has really shifted too far to the left, and I don't like all the obstructionism. I'd rather see them working together.

CORNISH: We're going to hear now from Sandy Springs, Ga. That's where NPR's Don Gonyea is at the Westin hotel. Hey, there, Don.


CORNISH: All right, so you were at the Democrats headquarters. And this is a race to fill the seat vacated by President Trump's health and human services secretary, Tom Price. So far, what results are you hearing about?

GONYEA: We thought it was going to be close. Now it's very early. Less than 10 percent is in, but Karen Handel has a lead of less than a half of a percentage point. So it's early, but it's living up to the billing so far in terms of how close it seems to be.

CORNISH: Tell us a little more about the background of these two candidates.

GONYEA: Yeah. Let's start with Karen Handel, the Republican. She's a former secretary of state. She was a county official. And she's a former executive with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. She is 55 years old. She has made her experience an issue.

Then the Democrat is Jon Ossoff. He is a political newcomer, 30 years old, a former congressional staffer, worked in Washington. And he's a documentary filmmaker. He portrays himself as a person with fresh ideas, and he's talked a lot in this district about how he'll work across - yeah, he'll reach across the aisle.

CORNISH: Now, you've also been out talking to voters at polling places today, and I know they must have some reaction to all the attention this race has gotten - right? - not just money but just, like, focus from national media and elsewhere.

GONYEA: They roll their eyes (laughter). They sigh. They're so glad it's over. More than $50 million has been spent in this race. It's the most expensive ever. And that's also been robocalls and direct mail, and it's been beyond saturation. But Democrats like those in this room - you can hear them dancing to Bon Jovi in the background - are energized. And they have seen it from the beginning as a chance to channel their frustration with President Trump and show that they can fight back.

CORNISH: And Handel supporters - do they see this the same way, as a referendum on this president?

GONYEA: Not as much. They get it. They get why, you know, everybody is watching this race and looking for signs. But you know, one voter today said Trump won't care either way (laughter). So that's kind of their take on it.

CORNISH: And before I let you go, how much should we read into this looking ahead to midterms?

GONYEA: Well, it certainly would send a signal to both parties. You know, a win here might help Democrats recruit better candidates next year. A win for Republicans would give them some confidence that maybe things aren't quite as bad as they thought they could be next year.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Don Gonyea. Don, thanks so much.

GONYEA: It's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.

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