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Georgia Special Election A Chance For Democrats 'To Make A Statement'


Now it's time for our regular segment, Words You'll Hear. That's where we take a word or phrase that will be in the news this week and give it a closer look. This week, it's all about another vote. This one's a bit closer to home. The phrase is special election. Democrats are hoping a special congressional race in Georgia will be a referendum on the Trump administration. It's the seat that was held by now Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

And if Democrats flip it Tuesday, that could have ripple effects into the 2018 midterms. NPR political reporter Jessica Taylor is down in Atlanta covering the race, and she joins us on the line from there now. Welcome to the program, Jessica.


SUAREZ: Jessica, why are Democrats so optimistic about this race, a big field for a seat normally held by a Republican?

TAYLOR: Yeah, so this is the type of district that Trump did not do really well in in 2016. This is in the rapidly changing, really diverse Atlanta suburbs. It's a really weird 18-way, all-party primary. If no candidate gets 50 percent, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to a June 20 runoff. That

once seemed like the only outcome given just how big the field is, but Democrats have been able to marshal their resources and enthusiasm behind one candidate, and that is Jon Ossoff, who's a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker and former congressional staffer. For donors and activists across the country, he's become a way to register their frustrations and concerns with Trump. He's raised an unheard of $8.3 million for this race. But about 95 percent of that has come from outside Georgia.

SUAREZ: So Ossoff is well-funded and well-staffed. You went out with canvassers into the streets of the district.

TAYLOR: Yeah, so yesterday I went to some of his field offices and was talking to some of these volunteers. You know, a lot of people I talked to were from the districts. A lot of them were older women. And I went out with two. They were in their late 60s. They were just excited a Democrat really even had a chance in this area. And, you know, there are people coming in and out - young people, old people - to sign up, to canvass these neighborhoods. And one woman I talked to, Megan Prince-Miller, she kind of stood out.

MEGAN PRINCE-MILLER: We're having our first baby, a daughter, and, you know, it's just been on the back of our minds what kind of world is she going to live in? And I don't want it to be the world that I think that President Trump is creating.

TAYLOR: So when she says she's having a daughter, she's due in three weeks. She's almost - she's nine months pregnant, and she was on her feet, out there on the streets, hitting for Ossoff. That just kind of, you know, to me, tells me what kind of enthusiasm is out there for him.

SUAREZ: Jessica, could Ossoff win this outright Tuesday, 50 percent plus one?

TAYLOR: His team really thinks that's possible. And that is their goal, and it's because it's their best chance to win. If it goes to a runoff on June 20, it sort of becomes a much more traditional race versus Republicans. Republicans have spent a lot of money to tear him down. That's only going to continue through June. Here's what he was telling canvassers last night at his Chamblee campaign office.


JON OSSOFF: We are the first up to bat in the country with a chance to make a statement about what we stand for.

TAYLOR: Polls right now have him somewhere in the mid-40s, and there are about four Republicans vying for second place. And there are some names that people have seen on the ballot before - former Secretary of State Karen Handel. She ran for both Senate and governor. But ultimately, a victory for Republicans on Tuesday night would just be keeping Ossoff under 50 percent.

SUAREZ: That's NPR's Jessica Taylor from Atlanta where she's covering the word you'll hear this week - special election. Thanks, Jessica.

TAYLOR: Thank you, Ray. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.
Ray Suarez