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Raking it in

Jon Ossoff has raised a pile of cash from Dems even though he's not very progressive

Jon Ossoff is raking in cash from Dems, but he’s not very progressive

Democrat Jon Ossoff has opened up a 7-point lead in what’s become the most expensive congressional race in American history, according to a poll conducted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week. Ossoff has raised an unheard-of $23 million to fill the seat in the suburban middle-class district outside Atlanta vacated by Republican Tom Price, who joined the Trump Cabinet as secretary of health.

But what makes 30-year-old Ossoff an odd benefactor for such unprecedented sums of Democratic Party dollars is that he’s not very progressive, at a moment when the party is moving decidedly to the left and the socialist Bernie Sanders is the most popular sitting politician associated with the party.

Ossoff opposes raising income taxes on the wealthiest Americans, is against “any move” toward a single-payer health care system, and has refused to commit to voting for Nancy Pelosi for speaker if Democrats win the House in 2018, according to a recent interview with The New York Times. He goes so out of his way to not embrace liberal positions that his Republican opponent, Karen Handel, has accused him of talking “like a Republican” to trick voters.

Meanwhile, more congressional Democrats than ever are signing on to single payer — or a version of it — and supporting a $15 national minimum wage. And Democrats are gleefully attacking Republicans for supporting tax cuts for the rich.

But that’s not stopping Democrats from padding Ossoff’s campaign account. He’s already raised millions more than any other House candidate in the entire 2016 election cycle (Speaker Paul Ryan raised the most, with $19.8 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics). It’s also more money than every 2016 Senate candidate except one, which is all the more jaw-dropping since senators run statewide campaigns and incumbent senators raise money over six-year terms.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has poured in about $5 million more, investing several times the amount it contributed in the recent special elections in Montana and Kansas.

Trump won this traditionally Republican district by just 1 point, and Democrats hope to make this the first major voter rejection of the Trump presidency when the ballots are cast June 20. To do that, Democratic strategists argue that Ossoff has to talk and walk like a centrist to win in a district that re-elected its Republican congressman by over 20 points last November. And with the latest polls showing Ossoff opening up a wider lead, the centrist mold seems to fit.  

The tremendous investment in the race isn’t just a one-off but rather a sign of the Democratic Party’s larger strategy to target the suburban districts where Hillary Clinton beat Trump in November. The targets look to continue to build on Clinton’s gains with college-educated and non-white voters put off by Trump. Sanders and other progressives argue that Democrats should be focusing on winning back the white working class and non-college-educated voters they lost over the past decade.

“The current model and the current strategy of the Democratic Party is an absolute failure,” Sanders said Saturday night at the People’s Summit in Chicago, an annual gathering of the Left. “The Democratic Party needs fundamental change. What it needs is to open up its doors to working people, and young people, and older people, who are prepared to fight for social and economic justice.”

Prominent Democrats inside and outside the party argue that Sanders is presenting a false choice and that the party can win back the white working class and build on Clinton’s gains. But there will be a moment when the party chooses what to do with its limited dollars.

Despite raising more and more money from grassroots donors, the DCCC has been just barely keeping pace with the National Republican Congressional Committee, which has benefited from donors eager to get in Republicans’ good graces while the party controls both houses of Congress.

And when the DCCC does decide where to dedicate its money, it’s poised to give it to more contenders like Ossoff.

Follow Alex on Twitter @AlxThomp

 

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