Political Insider

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Paul Ryan to campaign with Karen Handel in Georgia's 6th race

House Speaker Paul Ryan will headline an event in Georgia with Republican Karen Handel on May 15, the latest high-profile GOP leader to stump with the 6th District candidate.

Ryan campaign spokesman Zack Roday said the speaker is "proud to stand with Karen Handel, a strong conservative leader who will be a fighter for Georgians."

Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, has tried to quickly consolidate Republican support since landing a spot in the June 20 runoff against Democrat Jon Ossoff. President Donald Trump starred in an April fundraiser with her in Atlanta, while Ryan hosted a Washington event for the candidate last week.

The exact details of the event are still in the works, but Roday said Ryan is "excited to rally voters to get out and vote" for Handel.

Republicans see the contest to represent the district, which stretches from east Cobb to north DeKalb, as a must-win scenario. The GOP has held the seat for decades, and it’s been a launching pad to bigger titles for Newt Gingrich, Johnny Isakson and Tom Price.

But Ossoff’s surprising success has rattled Republicans. The 30-year-old former congressional aide has seized on Trump’s struggles in the district – he barely carried it in November – and leveraged unprecedented fundraising hauls to almost win the seat outright on April 18.

Since notching the No. 2 spot, Handel has openly embraced Trump – and Ossoff has largely refused to criticize her for it. But her supporters are eager to feature her on the campaign trail with a more mainstream Republican figure in the establishment-friendly district.

Ryan and his allies have poured millions into the race. He's raised record sums for the House GOP's campaign arm, which has spent more than $6.2 million on the race. And the Congressional Leadership Fund - a super PAC endorsed by Ryan - has laid out another $5 million on the contest.

Also, Ryan's Handel fundraiser took in $150,000 and he's signed four emails that have netted another $50,000 for his campaign.

The visit will come in the middle of the fight in Congress over an Obamacare repeal.

The House narrowly passed a sweeping health overhaul last week over the objection of Democrats and health advocates who worry, among other concerns, that it guts protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. Some Senate Republicans have already raised similar concerns about the measure.

Ryan is likely the latest in a string of Republican officials who will campaign for Handel in Georgia. Ossoff, on the other hand, faces a trickier calculus over whether to bring in Democratic reinforcements to the conservative-leaning district.

Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, is surely off the table: She’s at the center of a never-ending string of attack ads linking her to Ossoff, which accelerated after she held a fundraiser in Washington for him. So is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who will be in Atlanta on Monday for a Carter Center event.

One Democrat he welcomed to his side last week was Jason Kander, a former Missouri secretary of state who now leads a voter advocacy group. Kander said Ossoff is walking the same line that he tried to tread in red-state Missouri.

“He’s prioritizing local economic development and local issues,” Kander said. “People don’t want just another person who will go out and scream about what’s going on in the national level. They want someone who is going to stay focused on the people back home. And that’s exactly what he’s doing.”

Ossoff has dismissed the visits by Trump and other prominent Handel supporters, saying he’s not concerned with the “comings and goings of figures from Washington.” He was asked in a recent interview if his campaign will line up its own visits with big-name Democrats.

“I’m not sure yet,” Ossoff said. “I’m really focused on driving the economic message and articulating the vision for metro Atlanta’s economic growth and economic potential that will serve the dreams of Georgia’s families.”

More recent AJC coverage of the 6th District race:

How the 6th District went from red to purple

A 6th District rift over the House healthcare plan in Tom Price’s old turf

Sixth District TV ads are creating the news. No, really.

Ossoff takes aim at disgruntled Republicans in Georgia’s 6th

Update: Democrats celebrate 6th District voter registration ruling

Ahead of Georgia’s Sixth District contest, a May 16 test vote

Ossoff outlines $16B plan to slash ‘wasteful spending’

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.