Democratic congressional hopeful Jon Ossoff has Republicans awake and scrambling after nearly winning a seat in the House of Representatives. With 48.3 percent of the vote, just shy of the 50 percent needed for an outright win, he is set to race against Republican Karen Handel in a run-off election in June. If he wins, he will become the first Democrat to succeed in the northern Atlanta district since the 1970s.
Ossoff has already pulled off something amazing, as the district he is running in is deep red. However, some believe Ossoff would have been able to pull off a victory on Tuesday if not for some disturbing maneuvering by Republicans, accidentally revealed by Republicans themselves.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Republican Sen. Fran Millar let slip the suspected truth behind gerrymandering, a practice the GOP relies on.
"At a GOP breakfast on the district’s eastern DeKalb outskirts, state Sen. Fran Millar criticized Democrats who think it’s a 'done deal that this kid’s going to become the Congressman.'
'I’ll be very blunt: These lines were not drawn to get Hank Johnson’s protégé to be my representative. And you didn’t hear that,' said Millar. 'They were not drawn for that purpose, OK? They were not drawn for that purpose.'
Echoing Millar's bluntness, but from the other side of the aisle, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez summarized Ossoff's close loss during an interview with MSNBC.
"Here’s what I do know. We haven’t controlled that seat in 37 years. And the Republicans in Georgia gerrymandered the heck out of it."
Gerrymandering is a manipulation of district lines so that one party's candidate is given advantage over the other. Although it varies from state to state, generally the power to redraw district lines lies in the hands of the state's legislature — which is controlled by the majority political party. It is an unethical political strategy favored by the GOP that disenfranchises minority voters and voters of color. In John Oliver's words, it is "partly responsible for giving Republicans such an edge in the House of Representatives."
Given that Rep. Hank Johnson is black and Millar's allusion to the racism that guides gerrymandering is almost blatant, the slip might be enough to prompt a federal investigation if not for the current administration. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a checkered history with civil rights, and the Republican controlled congress refuses to turn around a Supreme Court decision that disemboweled the Voting Rights Act in 2013. If the country is hoping for government support when it comes to their voting rights, it won't be coming with these folks in power.
Ossoff has Republicans sweating, but his bid for elected office will still be a boxing match. He is working against decades of racist policy and shadowy GOP strategy; none in his camp can afford to take a minor victory lap. It's all hands on deck.