With Senate Primary In Limbo, Leading Georgia Democrat Blasts Top Election Official

Jon Ossoff leaves a campaign office in 2017 after meeting with supporters in Marietta, Ga. Ossoff lost a special election that year to fill the seat in Georgia's 6th Congressional District.
Jon Ossoff leaves a campaign office in 2017 after meeting with supporters in Marietta, Ga. Ossoff lost a special election that year to fill the seat in Georgia's 6th Congressional District.
David Goldman/AP

As votes continue to be counted across Georgia following its Tuesday primary, The Associated Press has yet to project a winner of the state's Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate.

Georgia's election law requires that a candidate receive a majority of votes to secure a primary nomination. Jon Ossoff currently stands at 50% of the vote, far ahead of the other six Democratic candidates and nearly surpassing the needed threshold to be the state's Democratic primary nominee and face Republican Sen. David Perdue in November.

"My campaign team and I are going to fight to ensure that every single vote is counted," Ossoff told reporters on a call Wednesday. "There are hundreds of thousands of votes that remain to be counted. So until those votes are counted, it's not the time to talk about outcomes."

While much of the election was conducted by mail, in-person voting on Tuesday was plagued by major logistical problems and long lines across the state, which has raised concerns over preparations for Election Day in November.

Teresa Tomlinson, former mayor of Columbus, Ga., trails Ossoff in second place, and she's closely followed by Sarah Riggs Amico, a former nominee for Georgia lieutenant governor. If Ossoff is unable to surpass 50% of the vote, he and the second-place candidate will move on to a runoff election on Aug. 11.

"It appears that for the third time in his political career, Jon Ossoff has failed to break the 50% needed to avoid a runoff," Tomlinson said in a statement Wednesday. "Voters in Georgia know we need a strong candidate to take on David Perdue and even though Jon is universally known, a majority of voters have rejected him again," she added, though it remains to be seen whether Ossoff received a majority of the vote.

In a statement from Amico's campaign, she emphasized the need to count additional ballots before moving forward. "It is a slap in the face to every Georgia voter for a candidate to unilaterally declare an outcome in this race when hundreds of thousands of ballots remain uncounted," Amico said.

Ossoff, Tomlinson and Amico are three of seven Democrats vying for the primary nomination, including Maya Dillard Smith, former head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.

The AP said as of midday Wednesday, there may be more than 100,000 uncounted votes in the Atlanta metro area, a region where Ossoff has dominated so far.

Ossoff had sharp criticism for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger after Raffensperger pledged to launch investigations into the predominantly Democratic counties of DeKalb and Fulton following the election delays. Fulton County encompasses the city of Atlanta. Part of Atlanta is also in neighboring DeKalb County. Georgia Republican State House Speaker David Ralston echoed a similar sentiment, pushing for a committee in the state Legislature to investigate.

"I have to say that I was particularly disgusted that our secretary of state refused to take any personal responsibility for a debacle that was clear to anybody watching it," Ossoff told reporters. "What happened yesterday was an outrage."

With a clear lead in the primary contest and a possible runoff in sight, Ossoff may be headed on a similar path that he faced three years ago.

In 2017, Ossoff ran for the U.S. House in a special election to fill the seat in Georgia's 6th Congressional District. He fell short of winning a majority by under 2 percentage points in the spring primary and went on to lose to Republican Karen Handel in a runoff that summer. The district, located in the Atlanta metro area, had been GOP controlled for nearly 40 years and went Democratic in 2018.

The special election in 2017 saw increased turnout for an off-year election and remains the most expensive House race ever recorded. While Ossoff's national name recognition is high, he faced criticism during this year's Senate primary campaign over his resume.

Ossoff heads a company that produces investigative documentaries and has previously been a congressional staffer, though he has never held elected office.

Tomlinson, who touted her governing experience as a two-term mayor and public safety director in her city, attacked Ossoff's candidacy last month during a primary debate, also highlighting a Republican poll that found Perdue ahead of Ossoff.

"How can we afford to make you our nominee when you lack public service experience, couldn't win your home district and have very little statewide appeal?" Tomlinson asked.

Georgia's 2020 state and congressional primaries were originally slated for May 19, then postponed to June 9 due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. In an interview with NPR in late April, Ossoff characterized campaigning during the pandemic as a challenge but added it "pales in comparison to what so many people are going through."

Georgia is the only state in the country with two Senate elections this year. In addition to the Perdue race, a special election is planned for November to fill former GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson's seat since he retired in the summer of 2019 due to health challenges.

Republican Kelly Loeffler was appointed to fill the seat until the special election, and she is being challenged within her own party by Rep. Doug Collins, an ally of President Trump's. The leading Democrat in the race is the Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached.

Following significantly high turnout in the 2018 midterms, Georgia remains a key state for both Republicans and Democrats, and neither Senate seat is considered safe for Republicans.

The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan organization that tracks state and federal elections, has classified both Senate elections as Republican-leaning races, instead of likely or solid to go Republican, a notable distinction for a state that hasn't elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in 20 years.

Ossoff received endorsements from several Georgia leaders, including Rep. John Lewis, who also supported him during his 2017 run.

If elected, Ossoff, 33, would be the youngest member of the U.S. Senate and also the youngest elected since 1981 when former Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., took office at age 32.

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