Fighting for a fractured slice of the GOP electorate, former state Sen. Judson Hill tried to gain ground on Monday by slamming a top Republican rival’s pro-Donald Trump credentials in the bitter fight to represent a suburban Atlanta district.
Hill’s campaign invoked social media posts critical of Trump that were purported to be from Bob Gray, an ex-Johns Creek councilman who has built his campaign on a pledge to be a “willing partner” for the president. The two are among 18 candidates in the April 18 special election.
The attacks came amid mounting evidence that Republicans are fighting over one slot in a likely June 20 runoff between the two top vote-getters. Democrat Jon Ossoff, with a “Make Trump Furious” campaign, appears to be consolidating support among his party’s five candidates in the contest.
His campaign took aim at Gray, whose TV commercials feature him wielding an industrial-grade water pump as he wades knee-deep into a swamp in an homage to Trump’s campaign slogan.
"Moving from the swamp to dry land too quickly can prove fatal for a politician who's gotten used to the swamp," said Ian Caraway, Hill’s campaign manager, who said Gray is misleading voters. “He's not a 'willing partner' for Trump so much as a 'willing phony.'"
Gray spokesman Joash Thomas has called the social media posts "simply fake and untrue" and pointed to Gray's work at Trump's Georgia campaign office during the campaign as "something that can't be photo-shopped."
"Failing campaigns always attack first," he said. "It's not surprising that we're a target."
The increasingly barbed attacks from the rivals reflect a fast-changing calculus in the race to replace former Rep. Tom Price. A zPolitics poll released Monday showed Ossoff at 41 percent – and Gray deadlocked with former Secretary of State Karen Handel at 16 percent.
Many GOP analysts now see Ossoff, who has raised more than $3 million, as a shoo-in to land the most votes in the special election for the seat, which stretches from east Cobb to north DeKalb. That's prompted the 11 Republicans to sharpen their attacks on each other - and Ossoff.
More AJC coverage of the Sixth District race: