As House Speaker Paul Ryan prepared to address hundreds of Karen Handel supporters Monday inside a Dunwoody hotel, a throng of protesters chanting “this is what democracy looks like” massed outside the event.
A few dozen protesters, many wielding pink Planned Parenthood signs, lined the entrance to the hotel to greet Handel supporters. Among them was Nita Carson, a retired college professor who said she sees Democrat Jon Ossoff as a symbol of resistance.
“We need a young, energetic progressive in Congress,” said Carson. “And this sends a message to Donald Trump and Paul Ryan that things can change fast.”
Rebecca Reeves, a Sandy Springs retiree, said Handel’s support for the House GOP healthcare bill helped drive her to the barricades. A cancer survivor, she worries her quality of healthcare would suffer under the House bill that Ryan championed and Handel supports.
“I hope it comes back to haunt her,” said Reeves. “We need to join the rest of the civilized world with universal health care. These politicians, they don’t get that they work for us."
Ryan has been one of Handel's most outspoken supporters since she notched a spot in the June 20 runoff, and his visit is the latest sign that she is consolidating GOP support after brutal infighting in the first round of the vote.
Republicans have held the seat for decades, and national GOP groups have poured in millions of dollars to thwart Ossoff from pulling off an upset victory that could embarrass the party.
A 30-year-old former congressional aide, Ossoff has countered with unprecedented fundraising success - overwhelmingly from out-of-state donors - that have turned this into the costliest U.S. House race on record.
Inside the hotel, Handel supporters packed a ballroom awaiting Ryan’s arrival. Marci McCarthy, the Brookhaven owner of a marketing firm, was one of the first to stream into the room, and she was outspoken in her support for Handel - and the health plan.
“Obamacare is failing and I can tell you it’s really hindered our ability to provide healthcare,” McCarthy said. “The new House plan still needs refining. It needs work. But I have faith that when the Senate gets their hands on it and finesses it, we are going to have great healthcare.”