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Money is flooding into a Georgia congressional race to boost — or crush — a 30-year-old Democrat

Last year, a mysterious candidate named Rodney Stooksbury spent just $346 to win more than a third of the votes cast in the 2016 general election for Georgia's 6th congressional district.

Later this month, the 18 candidates vying in a special election for the seat vacated by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price would love that kind of return on investment.

In this photo taken March 11, 2017, Georgia Democratic congressional candidate Jon Ossoff speaks to volunteers in his Cobb County campaign office.
Bill Barrow | AP
In this photo taken March 11, 2017, Georgia Democratic congressional candidate Jon Ossoff speaks to volunteers in his Cobb County campaign office.

The very red U.S. House district in Georgia is attracting more money and national attention than it ever has because it holds one of the first congressional races of the President Donald Trump era. Almost all of that money has gone toward helping — or directly opposing — a 30-year-old Democrat.

A special election on April 18 will start to settle who will hold the seat in the Atlanta suburbs. The crowded field includes the leading Democrat, Jon Ossoff, and several Republicans who have served in state government, like former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel and former state Sens. Judson Hill and Dan Moody.

The high-profile contest, which some see as an early test of whether Democrats can flip Republican districts in the Trump era, has sparked the interest of outside groups, as well. It is one of four special elections in which a red seat is up for grabs, vacated by a Trump nominee.

The race has attracted more cash from around the country than the district has ever seen. As of March 29, Ossoff had raised $8.3 million and spent $6.1 million — more than double the highest amount Price spent in any one of his seven election campaigns there.

Price first won the seat in 2004 and never spent more than $2.5 million in an election. Ossoff's haul is all the more remarkable because Price was no slouch with spending — he spent more than the average Republican and Democratic House incumbent in 2016.

Several groups dedicated to keeping the Republican House majority, as well as wings of the National Rifle Association and Planned Parenthood, have funneled more than $3 million into the race.

At least $2.5 million of that was spent to oppose Ossoff, the former congressional aide who has led most polling in the race, partly because of fractured support among Republicans. Ads targeting Ossoff have claimed he lacks experience and is too closely tied to top Democrats.

One even hit him for dressing up as "Star Wars" character Han Solo when he was in college. Another tied Ossoff to terrorist groups, even including an image of Osama bin Laden, because his filmmaking company reportedly produced documentaries for news outlet Al Jazeera.

There is nothing to indicate that Ossoff has any ties to terrorist organizations. His campaign manager Keenan Pontoni called the ad a "smear attack" and said it was "truly shameful."

In a statement, he said Ossoff is "proud of his work as an investigative filmmaker."

Ossoff has easily outraised his opponents. As of March 29, Handel raised about $463,000, Hill garnered about $473,000 and Moody about $108,000.

All the more unusual is the Hollywood attention Ossoff has attracted. Actor Jon Cryer and comedian Chelsea Handler both donated $2,700 to his campaign, and actress Alyssa Milano has publicly supported him, prompting an attack from Handel.

If no candidate in the April 18 election wins 50 percent of the vote, it goes to a June runoff. The top two candidates will advance regardless of party.

One recent poll showed Ossoff with 43 percent of support, well ahead of Handel's 15 percent. However, he faces a much tougher task in a runoff, as support would likely coalesce around a Republican.

Trump won the district by only 1.5 points last year. Still, Price got more than 60 percent of the vote there in 2016.