Political Insider

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Georgia 6th: Republicans circle the wagons around Karen Handel

Some of the top elected Republicans in Georgia on Monday evening had a message to relay just 12 hours before the polls opened in the 6th Congressional District: it's all hands on deck for Karen Handel.

Top officials from the state Republican Party, the congressional delegation, local government and the state house huddled at Houck's Grille in Roswell for a final get-out-the-vote rally before Tuesday's special election to replace Tom Price.

Top billing at the event went to Gov. Nathan Deal, who endorsed Handel shortly after she secured her spot in the runoff but hadn't up until that point appeared publicly on her behalf.

In brief remarks to several hundred fired-up supporters, Deal framed Jon Ossoff, Handel's Democratic opponent, as a flashy candidate with little substance.

"When all you have is sound bites, clichés and talking points, and you read and say those very well, there’s one essential missing ingredient .... experience," Deal said. "It is somebody who knows how to separate what sounds good but might not be practical at all and may not work at all from those things that not only sound right but actually work. And that to me is the difference in this race."

Seeking to win over moderates, independents and disgruntled Republicans, Ossoff has ditched his initial "make Trump furious" platform in favor of a more bipartisan pledge to eliminate government waste and bolster tech jobs.

Handel said Ossoff has little practical experience that suggests he could do any of those things if elected. She instead emphasized her own background cutting spending and building bridges across the aisle as chairwoman of the Fulton County Commission and Georgia secretary of state

"We cannot give up or let up until those polls close tomorrow evening," Handel told her supporters, many of whom donned campaign stickers, t-shirts and crowns made out of balloons. "We have to knock on every door, keep the phone calls going, make sure everyone goes out to vote tomorrow."

Several other prominent Republicans were on hand in a show of eleventh-hour unity, including U.S. Reps. Doug Collins and Rick Allen, new Georgia GOP Chairman John Watson and Roswell Mayor Jere Wood. The GOP had been fractured during the first round of 6th District voting, when 11 Republican candidates were vying to replace Price, but party elders have largely coalesced around Handel since.

Deal's presence in particular was notable. He had some major beef with Handel stretching back to their testy primary battle for governor back in 2010. But Handel endorsed her onetime rival for reelection in 2014, the same year she was vying for Saxby Chambliss' old Senate seat, and she's made several trips to Deal’s office this year to consult with the governor and his staff.

Deal said the GOP is "hungry for qualified capable women to carry the Republican label," a comment that drew some of the loudest cheers of the night. If elected, Handel would become Georgia's first GOP congresswoman.

With polls showing the race neck-and-neck, Handel is seeking every advantage she can to consolidate Republican support and energize her party's base. Both parties have poured tens of million of dollars into the Tuesday contest, which is by far the most expensive U.S. House contest in the nation’s history.

Collins, R-Gainesville, framed Tuesday's contest as an easy choice for 6th District voters.

“They understand that (it's a choice between) a liberal Democrat who doesn’t live in the district versus a proven conservative who does live in the district," Collins told reporters. "And I think that when they look at experience and they look at what’s going on here in the district, they’re going to vote for Karen Handel.”

Read more:

Final WSB-TV poll: Ossoff and Handel deadlocked in Georgia’s 6th

In final hours before vote, Handel reflects on ‘craziest’ 6th District race

Ossoff sticks to the script during final hours of campaign

Trump urges 6th District voters to back Handel, citing taxes, health care

6th District race prompts many locals to get involved for first time 

National Democrats, Republicans both see 6th District as a must-win

For all things 6th District, check  out our redesigned myAJC politics page

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.