All eyes on Georgia: The race for the 6th District is down to the wire

Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff crisscrossed Atlanta’s suburbs over the weekend to appeal to their likeliest voters in the final days ahead of Tuesday’s 6th District vote, as polls showed a neck-and-neck race and few voters still undecided.

Handel rallied the GOP faithful at an event featuring two Cabinet secretaries with deep ties to the district — former Rep. Tom Price and ex-Gov. Sonny Perdue. Ossoff countered with his own big-name supporter, Rep. John Lewis, with stops in some of the bluest parts of the suburban territory.

It’s the most closely-watched election in the nation, attracting droves of attention and heaps of cash. By far the most expensive U.S. House contest in history, both sides eager to win it for very different reasons.

Handel’s closing pitch meant emphasizing her roots in the 6th District, which spans from east Cobb to north DeKalb, and reminders that Ossoff doesn’t live in the territory he hopes to represent. The Democrat lives south of its borders, near where his fiance is attending medical school at Emory University, and plans to move within its boundaries.

“I know this district and the people of this district know my record,” she said at one campaign stop. “They know what I’ve been able to accomplish. That’s why I’m going to win.”

Ossoff’s weekend took him to stops on the outskirts of downtown Marietta, Sandy Springs and Dunwoody — all areas where he performed well in the April 18 vote. He narrowly missed an outright win in that first round of voting, cutting a swath of support across north DeKalb and up the Ga. 400 and I-75 corridors.

“It’s all about turnout and it’s all about getting out the vote,” he told supporters in Chamblee. “And my team and I are working as hard as we ever have to make sure they know when and where to vote. We’re going to sprint through the finish.”

‘No turning back’

For Democrats, Tuesday’s vote is a chance to salvage a victory after losing special elections in Kansas and Montana. The Georgia race was long the party’s top target: Although the district has been in GOP hands for decades, Donald Trump struggled to carry it and an Ossoff victory could help guide a path to flipping more conservative strongholds.

For Republicans, a win could show jittery incumbents that allying with Trump in competitive districts won’t doom them. And it could buoy Trump and the GOP agenda in what’s seen nationally as a referendum on his presidency; Handel’s campaign said in a fundraising pitch Sunday her loss would be a “devastating blow” to Trump.

Handel’s main weekend event was a Saturday rally at a sweltering hangar at Peachtree-DeKalb airport, where more than 200 people showed up to cheer Price and Perdue’s first public campaign event in the 6th District race.

Price, who represented the district from 2004 until he was tapped as Trump’s health secretary, urged voters to summon a “crazy” turnout to match the intensity on Ossoff’s side. And Perdue — now the agriculture secretary — led the crowd in a chant of “no turning back” that briefly echoed through the cavernous building.

“The leftists have gone and typecast and they’ve picked this young man — charismatic, articulate — and they’ve taught him a few Republican buzzwords,” Perdue said. “They think he can fool you. It’s not gonna happen.”

The former governor voiced what other Republicans have long acknowledged — that he was worried that “turned-off voters” concerned about Trump’s presidency would stay home on Tuesday. He told the crowd that Trump “keeps his promises” and that Georgia’s race is was a “harbinger of national politics” with enormous implications for the GOP.

Handel largely kept the divide over Trump at arm’s length during the opening phase of her campaign, but has embraced him and backed his top priorities since landing a spot in the runoff. He has enthusiastically endorsed her, appearing with her at an April fundraiser, and has targeted Ossoff in tweets and robo-calls.

Although that approach has risked alienating independents and moderates that Ossoff is hoping to persuade, polls show she has consolidated much of the GOP vote after the April 18 vote that featured 11 Republicans. Joe Webb, a Marietta retiree who has canvassed for Handel, said her support for the president helped win him over.

“It matters to me that she sticks with the president,” he said. “I want to get the economy going, get more funding for veterans and the military. And he’ll do that.”

High stakes vote

At Ossoff’s events, the Democrat sought to mobilize his core of supporters. 

At one stop in Marietta, Lewis told a few dozen Ossoff volunteers that Democrats can “fight back” and preserve voting rights by casting a ballot on Tuesday. At another event in Chamblee — a Democratic stronghold where Ossoff needs to run up the score — the candidate said his election could help “restore some faith” to those jaded by national politics.

“With the stakes so high, there’s no excuse not to be out there making our voices heard,” he said. “Thank you for what you are doing, because the eyes of the whole country are on this race. The eyes of this whole world are on this race.”

About 100 volunteers soon dispersed across the district, with assignments spanning from apartment complexes near Dunwoody to subdivisions in Chamblee. Among them was Jill Vogin, a Dunwoody supporter who said her community has been swept up in Ossoff fervor.

“Everyone. Our children. Our husbands. Our parents,” she said. “Everyone we know has been passionate and involved in this campaign. It makes us all feel like there’s hope.”

And Ossoff has done little to play down the notion that a victory Tuesday could send a sharp message to Washington. He said a focus on local concerns “despite the temptation to wade into the national circus” could provide an example to other Democratic challengers seeking to flip Republican-held territories next year.

“Perhaps there is some lesson there about what voters really care about,” said Ossoff. “It’s less the palace intrigue and drama in D.C. and more about what are you going to do to improve my life.”

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