Can Jon Ossoff Win in Georgia? What to Watch as 5 States Vote Today

ATLANTA — Five states hold primary elections on Tuesday, and the biggest race is in Georgia, kicking off what could be an important political year in the state. Georgia Democrats, whose hopes have often been dashed in recent years, think they have a chance to turn the state blue in presidential and Senate races for the first time in at least two decades.

Both of the state’s Senate seats are up for election this year, and on Tuesday, Democrats will select a candidate to oppose an incumbent Republican, David Perdue, in the fall. (The winner of the other seat will be chosen in a special election in November with no primary.)

On Tuesday morning, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta said on Twitter that voting machines were not working in many parts of the city.

Georgia polls close at 7 p.m. Eastern time, but more than one million voters have already cast ballots, most of them by mail, after Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger sent absentee ballot applications to all active voters. Georgia is also holding its presidential primaries, which were postponed from March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The leading contender in the Democratic Senate primary is Jon Ossoff, 33, who became something of a wunderkind candidate when he came close to flipping a House seat in a 2017 special election. He has tried to position himself as a center-left consensus builder with a particular focus on civil rights.

Mr. Ossoff has received endorsements from two of Georgia’s most prominent Democratic congressmen, John Lewis and Hank Johnson, but he could face a runoff election if he fails to clear 50 percent in the crowded field of seven candidates. If he is to face a runoff, it will most likely be against either Sarah Riggs Amico, a former candidate for lieutenant governor, or former Mayor Teresa Tomlinson of Columbus, Ga.

Mr. Ossoff, helped by national name recognition and a fund-raising effort still in place from his 2017 run, injected a last minute jolt of cash into the race, seeking to clear the 50 percent threshold on the first swing. If he does, he’ll become the centerpiece of a statewide strategy for Georgia Democrats, who are aiming to not only flip the state in the Electoral College but also change the balance of power on Capitol Hill.

ImageJon Ossoff lost a race for a House seat in Georgia in 2017. Now, he’s running in the Democratic primary to challenge Senator David Purdue, a Republican.

Credit…Audra Melton for The New York Times

  • Mr. Ossoff lost the 2017 special election to Karen Handel, a Republican, in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District. But Ms. Handel lost the next year to Lucy McBath, a Democrat. Now Ms. Handel is the favorite in Tuesday’s Republican primary to try to win back that seat. She faces four opponents in the district that was represented by Newt Gingrich for 20 years.

  • Georgia’s Seventh District was once reliably Republican territory, but it includes an increasingly diverse section of metro Atlanta. Now there are contested primaries on both sides for the seat held by Representative Rob Woodall, a Republican who is not running for re-election. Mr. Woodall won by fewer than 500 votes in 2018, and his opponent in that race, Carolyn Bourdeaux, is again seeking the Democratic nomination. Another Democrat in the race, Nabilah Islam, was endorsed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

  • Two Republican women are the front-runners in a primary in South Carolina’s First District, vying to challenge Representative Joe Cunningham, who flipped the Charleston-based seat in 2018 in a long-shot Democratic victory. Nancy Mace, the first woman to graduate from the Citadel, is backed by the G.O.P. establishment; Kathy Landing was endorsed by the conservative insurgents in the House Freedom Caucus.

  • West Virginia Democrats will choose between three candidates for governor who represent the various wings of the party: Ben Salango, a county commissioner from Charleston who is an establishment favorite endorsed by the state’s major labor unions and Senator Joe Manchin III; Stephen Smith, a progressive in the mold of Senator Bernie Sanders, who carried the state handily in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary; and Ron Stollings, a state senator who is among the few remaining conservative Democrats in elected office.

  • The incumbent West Virginia governor, Jim Justice, was elected as a Democrat in 2016, then switched parties and won the endorsement of President Trump. But he has also faced calls to resign from fellow Republicans, federal investigations and lawsuits against his companies. He is the state’s richest man and rarely spends time in Charleston, the capital. In Tuesday’s G.O.P. primary, his closest competition will come from Woody Thrasher, a former member of his cabinet.

  • In Nevada, Republicans are choosing challengers to Representative Susie Lee in the Third District, which Mr. Trump won by one percentage point in 2016, and Representative Steven Horsford in the Fourth District, which Hillary Clinton won by four points. Mr. Horsford was first elected in 2012, then lost re-election in 2014 before reclaiming the seat in 2018.

  • In North Dakota, there’s a Democratic primary for the state’s at-large congressional district, which is represented by Kelly Armstrong, a Republican.

Reporting was contributed by Nick Corasaniti, Catie Edmondson, Reid J. Epstein, Nicholas Fandos and Trip Gabriel.

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