Jon Ossoff: from GA-6 to the US Senate

Jon Ossoff became the nation's first millennial senator

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Jon Ossoff defeated incumbent Senator David Perdue last Tuesday, flipping a pair of US Senate Seats in the state of Georgia as Reverend Raphael Warnock also defeated incumbent Senator Kelly Loeffler. Ossoff first became famous for running in the Special Election for the 6th Congressional District, which encompasses the northern suburbs of Atlanta. This district includes parts of Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties and is a historically red district. Republicans in the pre-Trump era used to do quite well in affluent and well educated suburbs like GA-6. Interestingly, it is home to many of Georgia’s prominent politicians such as Newt Gingrich, Johnny Isakson and Tom Price.

While Jon Ossoff got 49% of the vote in the House Special Jungle Primary in April 2017, he fell short in the June Runoff Election against his Republican opponent, former GA Secretary of State Karen Handel. This was a closely watched race that involved a ton of money and national attention. While Ossoff did very well in the GA-6 portion of DeKalb with exception of the northernmost city of Dunwoody, he could not overcome the red DNA of East Cobb and far Northern Fulton. Fast forward three and a half years and Ossoff won the 6th district by almost six points in his bid for US Senate, winning both the Fulton and DeKalb portions of the districts. While he did not win the Cobb County portion, he made significant improvements in that area, painting it a lighter version of pink than 2017. Below, you can see the side-by-side comparison for Ossoff’s performance in the 6th district during the 2017 House Special Election Runoff and this January’s Senate Runoff Election.

What about statewide? How did 33 year old Ossoff defeat David Perdue, who is the cousin of former Governor Sonny Perdue and comes from a prominent GA family? Perdue won his first term against Michelle Nunn, who herself comes from a political family. Nunn is the daughter of former four-term US Senator, Sam Nunn. Nunn gave Perdue a run for his money during the 2014 Midterm Election, over performing President Obama’s 2012 performance but still falling quite short of the finish line. Comparing Perdue’s two elections allows us to see what kind of coalition Ossoff (and Warnock) were able to build to flip Georgia this year. Looking at the swing between 2014 and 2021 below, while Ossoff underperformed Nunn in much of rural Georgia, he made massive improvements in much of the Atlanta Metro area. In fact, he improved over Nunn’s margins in Rockdale, Gwinnett and Forsyth by almost 30 points!

Ossoff built upon Stacey Abrams 2018 campaign for Governor which focused on increasing turnout in the diverse areas of the Atlanta Metro. Abrams and multiple grassroots organizations made their main goal to register new voters and bring them into the political process. The Ossoff campaign ran ads highlighting his connection with John Lewis and talked about “Health, Jobs and Justice” and restoring the Civil and Voting Rights Acts on the campaign stump. As the Atlanta area continues to boom, Warnock and Ossoff were successfully able to court a new diverse coalition that differed from Michelle Nunn’s 2014 strategy, which focused on driving down the margins with rural voters and moderate white voters.

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