Georgia special election stokes raw emotions in the final stretch
iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — One of the most expensive and highly publicized congressional races in U.S. history is reaching its conclusion, with voters in Georgia’s sixth congressional district heading to the polls to choose a replacement for Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price’s vacant House seat. The field was first narrowed to two candidates — Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff — in an April primary.
Though the district has not had a Democratic representative since 1979, supporters of Ossoff are hoping the 30-year-old first-time candidate can build on the momentum of Hillary Clinton’s near miss in the district in November. Observers widely view Tuesday’s election as a referendum on President Donald Trump’s first five months in office.
In addition to Ossoff’s youth and relative inexperience, healthcare and campaign finance reform have become major issues in the district.
Here’s a look at the story lines in the final day of the campaign:
Ossoff keeps his cool as pressure builds
After Ossoff finished strong in April’s primary and narrowly missed the 50-percent threshold needed to win the seat outright and avoid a runoff, Democrats saw a real opening and poured in money and resources to help the young Democrat see his race through.
After their surprising defeat in the presidential race last November, Democrats have been looking for a win but also arguing about the best way to appeal to voters moving forward. Win or lose, some Democrats will try to spin Ossoff’s race as model for what may or may not work across the county.
Despite his age, Ossoff has maintained his composure and stayed on message even under the intense pressure of the national spotlight.
“For all the attention to the national frame here, what folks want is representation that delivers a higher quality of life,” said Ossoff. “This gridlock, dysfunction, scandal in Washington doesn’t.”
With criticism of the president building among Democrats, he also noticeably steers away from about questions about Trump and, unlike his would-be colleagues on Capitol Hill, avoids mentioning the president’s name. He acknowledges though that the man in the White House has galvanized his volunteers and helped bring in cash.
“It’s a big race, the stakes are high but it is about doing what is right for the people I hope to have the honor of representing,” said Ossoff over the weekend.
High intensity, raw emotions and security issues
Constituents in the district say the race has been more intense than anything they have seen in recent memory. There’s is voter fatigue creeping in too as phones lines and airwaves continue to be flooded with ads from both sides for weeks. One attack ads was so over-the-top that both candidates said it needed to be taken off the air.
There has been an underlining narrative from Republicans here that the left is nearly out of control or militant. Greg Williams, a local GOP county chair and Handel volunteer told ABC he thought some “alt-left supporters” were doing “damage to the democratic brand.”
Last week, a threatening letter was mailed to Handel’s home containing a suspicious substance — later determined to be baking soda. She told reporters Monday the incident only made her more “determined to not be intimidated by anyone.”
Asked by ABC News if the tight race in the traditionally Republican stronghold made her rethink her hometown, Handel said emphatically, “No.”
“The Democrats put a lot of money into this — not for nothing,” Handel said Monday. “A squirrel is going to get a pretty decent percentage of the vote if he has $30 million dollars behind him.”
Williams said he was optimistic about the path ahead for Republicans. “I think by the time the midterms come around the Donald Trump presidency will be well on its way to reelection,” he said.
Where the candidates come down on hot-button issues
One of the two candidates will head to Washington and the issues debated now in the halls of Congress are on the minds of Georgia voters as well.
On health care, NARAL Pro-Choice America launched a six-figure television push attacking Handel, joining Planned Parenthood, which has spent more than $500,000 in the race.
In January 2012, Handel was senior vice president of public policy at Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the largest breast cancer advocacy organization in the U.S., when the organization announced it would cut its funding for Planned Parenthood. At the time, ABC News reported that Komen contributed about $680,000 per year to Planned Parenthood to cover affordable breast cancer screenings.
Komen’s decision was thought to be propelled by a 2011 Congressional investigation into Planned Parenthood’s use of federal funding; critics blamed Handel for the organization’s action. Handel resigned a month after the funding decision and denied any involvement with the defunding, but women’s reproductive health advocates see her as an extremist and are backing Ossoff with cash and get-out-the-vote efforts. They want to send a message to more moderate Republicans that they can help flip a district.
“Karen Handel is a clear extremist,” Keauna Gregory, a regional campaign director for Planned Parenthood, told ABC News this past weekend. “She has done a lot in her career to defund us. Women know that. People of the sixth [Congressional district] know that.”
According to Gregory, Planned Parenthood staffers and volunteers will have knocked on 80,000 doors in support of Ossoff by the end of the election.
Ossoff has kept Planned Parenthood and women’s healthcare at the center of his campaign. His website reads, “Jon will defend women’s access to contraception and a woman’s right to choose and fight any legislation or executive action that would allow insurance companies to discriminate against women.” Ossoff has also run campaign ads specifically addressing Handel’s purported role in the Planned Parenthood defunding.
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