But the grassroots enthusiasm has made Ossoff a fundraising machine. He raised a stunning $24 million by the end of May, five times the amount raised by Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state. Republican outside groups have helped her make up some of the difference, spending nearly $9 million on her behalf, according to fundraising reports.
Total spending has approached $40 million, obliterating the previous record of $30 million for a Florida congressional race in 2012.
While he benefits from the grassroots anti-Trump fervor, Ossoff has deliberately avoided making the race a referendum on Trump. On the campaign trail and in ads, he promises to work with Republicans and focuses on his plans to bolster local economic development, protect access to healthcare, particularly for women, and cut wasteful spending to pay for new priorities.
Ossoff said voters in the district are not demanding that he lead an anti-Trump resistance.
“I think voters are more concerned with accountability and results than they are with political drama,” he said in an interview after a meeting with millennial supporters.
While voters’ concerns about the administration have grown, he said, “Fundamentally what folks are looking for is representation that will work across the aisle to deliver a higher quality of life.”
Handel, who also rarely mentions Trump and has argued that the race should be about who has the values and experience to best serve the district, says Ossoff is misrepresenting himself.
“He’s trying to portray himself as something that he is not. He is Nancy Pelosi’s hand-picked candidate,” Handel told reporters this week after greeting diners at a local hamburger restaurant, repeating a line about House Democratic leader Pelosi that has featured prominently in attack ads against Ossoff by outside groups.
“He is an ultra-liberal. His values do not align with this district,” she said.
Some of her supporters agree. Terry Anderson, 67, a retired IT worker from Cobb County, said he did not believe Ossoff was sincere. “He sounds more like a moderate Republican all the time,” he said.
But Brenda Carswell, 61, a retired American Express employee from the city of Tucker who said she typically has switched back and forth between Republicans and Democrats — “I’ve voted for some Bushes and I’ve voted for some Clintons” — said she is backing Ossoff.
“He’s been mostly discussing issues that people care about. The problems in our area are more important than most of what they talk about in Washington,” she said.
Trump, who visited Georgia to raise money for Handel in late April, is watching closely. On Twitter, he criticized Ossoff, and after Ossoff was forced into a runoff he crowed that Democrats “failed in Kansas and are now failing in Georgia.” Trump called the race “Hollywood vs. Georgia.”
Several recent polls have given Ossoff a slight edge heading into Tuesday, while showing that there are few voters who are still undecided.
Democrats say the increasingly diverse area exemplifies the sort of educated and affluent suburban district that Democrats will need to win to recapture the House.
Georgia-based Democratic strategist Tharon Johnson said Ossoff’s non-ideological messaging should be a model for a party that needs moderates, independents and disaffected Republicans next year.
“He’s done a good job of positioning himself as a sensible Democrat,” he said. “He doesn’t need to tell voters what is wrong with Trump — people see the drama and the problems every day.”