- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2017

President Trump has raised the stakes in Georgia’s special congressional election this week, blasting press coverage of the race and telling voters the leading Democratic candidate is soft on crime and illegal immigration.

The election Tuesday is the latest in a series of races to fill empty House seats — contests that have quickly turned into early referendums on Mr. Trump’s three months in office.

Despite a large field of nearly 20 candidates, Democrats have rallied around Jon Ossoff, hoping to push him above 50 percent of the vote on Tuesday, which would allow him to avert a runoff and send the former congressional aide straight to Capitol Hill — giving liberals an election victory that could begin to cleanse Democratic palates of 2016 losses.

“A Republican loss here would send a bitter rebuke to the entire Republican Party that Americans across the country do not support their radical, anti-worker agenda,” Kait Sweeney, Progressive Change Campaign Committee press secretary, said in a statement Monday.

Republicans, meanwhile, are hoping to keep Mr. Ossoff below 50 percent, which would send the race to a two-person runoff where they’re confident their candidate could triumph. The most likely Republican to emerge from Tuesday would be former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel.

The GOP survived one test last week in Kansas, where a deep-red district elected a Republican to another vacant seat, albeit by just a 7-point margin. Mr. Trump won the district by 27 percentage points last year.

Over the weekend, the president chided reporters for their coverage, saying the press built the Kansas election up as “a really big media event, until the Republicans won.”

He said the press was now shifting its attention to the race for Georgia’s 6th District, which includes the northern, affluent suburbs of Atlanta.

One problem for Republicans is that Tuesday’s election is a “jungle primary.” There are many GOP candidates in the wide-open race, and national party leaders didn’t want to be seen picking a favorite this early.

Instead, Mr. Trump tried to dent Mr. Ossoff on Monday, saying on Twitter that he “wants to protect criminals, allow illegal immigration and raise taxes.”

Turnout has been a big concern for Democrats in Georgia.

Atlanta Democratic Mayor Kasim Reed said Monday on MSNBC that he felt the race was “within our reach,” adding, “I think the 6th wants to send a message to President Trump that he has gone too far.”

Mr. Reed also said that he believed Mr. Ossoff is “much better positioned” than the Democratic candidate was in Kansas.

But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in an email to supporters Monday that things could be turning sour.

“Breaking: Georgia Democrats’ early vote lead PLUNGES,” the committee claimed in an email, saying that the GOP had its best day of early turnout last Friday.

Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and former chairman of the HouseGOP’s campaign committee, said Democrats are more united in the Georgia race, but said Mr. Ossoff would struggle to win a runoff where the GOP would be able to unite behind a single candidate.

“I think we hold him under 50 and win it in June,” Mr. Cole said on MSNBC Monday.

• David Sherfinski and Seth McLaughlin contributed to this article.

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