A year after her special election victory, Republican U.S. Rep. Karen Handel formally launched her bid for re-election on Sunday by reprising a few favorite themes from that epic 2017 contest.
She blasted the out-of-state money and national attention focusing on her Democratic opponent. She criticized former President Barack Obama and made frequent mention of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. And she invoked her vanquished rival from last year’s race, Jon Ossoff.
“I am battle-tested. I am ready for this fight. Last summer, they threw everything they could think of at me. Including $40 million. Well, we looked that $40 million in the eye and stared it down,” said Handel, speaking to more than 100 supporters at a Roswell restaurant.
“We took on all of the shrill resistance folks who were chanting ‘Flip the Sixth,’ and we stayed steady and focused. And we got the job done.”
The race last year to represent the 6th District, a suburban swath stretching from east Cobb to north DeKalb counties, was viewed as a test of Donald Trump’s support in the suburbs and fast became the most expensive U.S. House race ever.
Ossoff raised $30 million and his allies chipped in another $8 million, while Handel and GOP-aligned groups spent about $25 million backing her campaign. She won the June runoff by 4 percentage points, instantly becoming one of the most visible lawmakers in Congress.
In this year’s contest, Handel will face Lucy McBath, a former flight attendant from Marietta who became a national gun control advocate after her teenage son was fatally shot following a dispute over loud music.
McBath, who emerged from a four-candidate primary, has used her story to advocate for stronger firearms laws and also has frequently discussed her past bouts with breast cancer and the need to protect the Affordable Care Act and women’s health care access, including abortion rights.
Handel largely avoided direct attacks of McBath, mentioning her name only once, and didn’t focus on Second Amendment issues. Instead, she preferred to draw parallels between McBath and national Democrats, much as she and other Republicans did last year to slam Ossoff.
“The candidate they found this year, well, she’s a lot like the candidate they found last year,” said Handel. “Outside money is going to flow by the million. We will be treated by the Hollywood elite coming into our community telling us who we should have as our congressman. But just like last year, we shall win. Because we know what’s at stake.”
She then raised the specter of Pelosi as House speaker and Rep. Maxine Waters, another Democratic lawmaker despised by Georgia conservatives, in a committee leadership post. McBath has not said whether she’d vote for Pelosi.
“This Democrat party is even more radical and more extreme than they have ever been before,” said Handel. “These are individuals who haven’t only embraced, but have actually elected, self-proclaimed, self-designated socialists.”
On policy issues, Handel highlighted her work on tried-and-true conservative issues, such as increased defense spending, a call for a balanced budget and crackdowns on sex trafficking.
She critiqued “paltry” economic growth under Obama and praised the move of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. She pledged to target “lawlessness” on the border with Mexico and to vote to make income tax reductions for individuals permanent.
And she exhorted her supporters to stand with her and other Republicans as November nears.
“We can’t be distracted by the polls or what’s playing out in the newspapers. Just remember last year – that headline,” she said, mentioning an AJC poll that showed her trailing by 7 points shortly before the election.
“What did we do together? We kicked some Ossoff.”