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For Handel, ‘all hands on deck’ means just that

Republican Karen Handel (left) walks a tightrope in accepting President Trump’s support in her campaign against Democrat-rival John Ossoff in the June 20 run-off election for Georgia’s 6th congressional district.

By Tom Baxter

In this business, every day’s inbox is loaded with entreaties from politicians of every stripe, under subject lines designed to get contributors to reach for their checkbooks. Most of these go straight to the trash bin without a glance, but not when the politician is Karen Handel and the subject line is “Donald Trump.”

Republican Karen Handel (left) walks a tightrope in accepting President Trump’s support in her campaign against Democrat-rival John Ossoff in the June 20 run-off election for Georgia’s 6th congressional district.

Republican Karen Handel (left) walks a tightrope in accepting President Trump’s support in her campaign against Democrat-rival John Ossoff in the June 20 run-off election for Georgia’s 6th congressional district.

Handel has expressed her gratitude for the president’s support after ending up in a runoff with Democrat John Ossoff for the 6th District congressional seat formerly held by Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price. But she has walked a careful line, as a close reading of her email attests.


“I wanted to make sure you saw this tweet from Donald Trump: ‘Dems failed in Kansas and are now failing in Georgia. Great job Karen Handel! It is now Hollywood vs. Georgia on June 20th.’

“I’ve been saying it for weeks, and now President Trump agrees: The Democrats are putting everything they have into defeating me.

“Make no mistake — this is an all-hands-on-deck situation.

“That’s why I’m excited to announce that a group of generous … etc.”

You can’t line up more solidly with President Trump than to email his complimentary tweet. But note that in the way it’s framed here, President Trump is now agreeing with something Karen Handel has been saying for weeks. It doesn’t say that Karen Handel now agrees with what President Trump has been saying for weeks.

It took no great insight to predict before last week’s general primary that Ossoff’s prospects had been so oversold that anything short of an outright victory would be treated as a disappointment. Trump’s tweet confirms that. The short-selling of Ossoff’s runoff chances after last week’s vote seems equally mistaken.

Karen Handel's nuanced message on social media recognizes her need to retain President Trump's supporters while reaching to voters who don't support the president's views. Credit: twitter.com, David Pendered

Karen Handel’s nuanced message on social media recognizes her need to retain President Trump’s supporters while reaching to voters who don’t support the president’s views. Credit: twitter.com, David Pendered

The conventional wisdom, which we’ve heard a lot of, is that in a heavily Republican district, Handel’s biggest hurdle was getting into the runoff, and she’ll get enough Republican votes to carry her easily over the top. That has happened before, but not always, or a Democrat wouldn’t be governor of Louisiana.

Just by the numbers, Handel faces a challenge. Ossoff got 92,390 votes. If Handel got all her votes plus every vote cast for the top three Republicans behind her — Bob Gray, Dan Moody and Judson Hill — she’d have 92,590 votes.

Make no mistake — that is an all-hands-on-deck situation. The chemistry and the numbers change in a runoff, but Handel’s margin for error is a lot tighter than is being generally estimated.

This race has received a lot of national attention as a straight-on referendum on Trump, and that story line will be underscored by the president’s visit to Atlanta Friday to address the National Rifle Association.

But voters are a little more complicated than that. It’s interesting that in Price’s district, one of Ossoff’s closer ads last week was about preserving the Affordable Care Act. If a Democrat can run on that issue in this district, it has legs.

The Trump effect on everything in politics has been so great that at times it’s worth stepping back to consider what would have been there, with or without Trump. Suppose that in some alternate universe, Ted Cruz had been elected president and the Republicans had proved equally incapable — there’s nothing too Twilight Zone about this — of repealing and replacing ObamaCare?

A lot of 6th District voters have problems with Trump that go beyond one issue or another. But it’s not hard to imagine that in that parallel universe, we’d have a race much like this one. This isn’t just a speculative point when it comes to the dangers ahead for Republicans in 2018. They risk as much thinking Trump is their only problem as they do thinking he’s their only salvation.

The White House said Monday it may be weeks before it hammers out a reworked health care plan with Republican congressional leaders, dampening speculation the administration would try some kind of Hail Mary pass in Trump’s first 100 days. That still is within the window of the 6th District runoff campaign. If this is a referendum on Trump in general, at a somewhat deeper level it may be an early referendum on health care reform, by which he and the Congressional Republicans are joined at the hip.

Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.


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  1. Steve Hagan April 24, 2017 9:45 pm

    Since I was self employed and had to pay for 100% of my Health Care Insurance I read much of Prices plan and found it was back to letting insurance companies have their way with us. I know it is not going to happen in any campaign soon, but just when will voters finally realize that working age people are really getting screwed by insurance companies For one, I want health insurance company profits and overhead out of my life like the majority of the civilized world.Report

  2. MerryLeigh Giarra April 25, 2017 11:50 am

    Great writing Tom!Report

    1. Steve Hagan April 26, 2017 10:34 am

      Oh, I have written Price, Isakson and Purdue but they take so much money from the insurance industry they can not see straight or gay. Lets face it, insurance companies and pharma really run health care. You better have insurance because they are the saviors who have negotiated the provider rates. Don’t have insurance and you get stuck with rates ten times higher….They are a mafia and state legislatures jump for them.Report

  3. Burroughston Broch April 25, 2017 9:48 pm

    @ Steve Hagan. Didn’t you say you are on Medicare? If so, you have your wish and yet you still complain.Report

    1. Steve Hagan April 25, 2017 10:44 pm

      Yes, I am on Medicare but I have many younger friends who pay 20% or more of their incomes to purchase health care insurance when that percentage could go down if we cut the profits of the insurance industry and overhead out of the equation. You must have been in the insurance business to be so protective of it.

      PS When I was forced to shut down my import business in 2008, i went thru 50K in savings to pay my premiums until I got on Medicare. No small number….. For the 50K I got one trip to a hoispital for three stents….Hospital bill was 109K…Blue Cross Blue Steal paid 9,200…Hospital accepted 9,200 as full payment…..Not 92 thousand….$9,200!Presumably the hospital made a small profit for my visit……So why can’t anyone who walks thru the door get that price? Because the insurance company is mafia extortion operation!!! Why would anyone pay 10K a year in premiums if they knew they could be in a hospital for four days with two trips to the operating room for 9,200???Report

  4. Burroughston Broch April 26, 2017 1:17 am

    @ Steven Hagan
    I was never in the insurance business. When I changed jobs I considered the insurance arrangement and cost as part of the deal. I was determined to be proactive rather than a complaining victim.Report

    1. Steve Hagan April 26, 2017 10:26 am

      So how were you proactive in regard to paying for health insurance? You chose an employer who paid most of the premium?Report

  5. Burroughston Broch April 26, 2017 2:33 pm

    I considered the policy coverage and my contribution as part of the package. It’s not rocket science.Report


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