Democrats Spend Big In Georgia's Special Election To Fill House Seat

Jun 6, 2017
Originally published on June 6, 2017 6:14 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

It is the most expensive congressional race in history. The campaign to replace now Health Secretary Tom Price in Georgia's 6th District in the Atlanta suburbs has cost nearly $30 million. The special election will happen two weeks from today. Tonight the candidates debate for the first time. NPR's Brian Naylor reports from Atlanta.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: It's a rainy morning in Georgia, but undeterred, Democrat Jon Ossoff is pitching in to help deliver some meals on wheels, and 95-year-old Earnest Baker is sitting on the porch to greet him.

JON OSSOFF: Hey, Mr. Baker. How are you, sir?

EARNEST BAKER: Oh, yeah, I know you. How you doing?

NAYLOR: There's a bit of an age difference. Ossoff is a 30-year-old former congressional aide and documentary filmmaker. He came up just short of a majority, 48 percent of the vote in the first round to fill this seat, a surprising showing in a district that has been in Republican hands for decades. Both sides say the enthusiasm can be traced to Democrats' resistance to President Trump. But Ossoff says it's not just Democrats.

OSSOFF: There are folks in this community of all political persuasions and backgrounds who have serious concerns about the direction of things in Washington right now, about the direction the administration is taking us in. And I share those concerns.

NAYLOR: And Ossoff will likely need some votes from Republicans and independents to win this seat outright. He has raised over $8 million, much of it online from Democrats around the country eager to show their opposition to Trump. That means a lot of TV ads, like this one featuring testimony from women who have survived cancer and are critical of Ossoff's GOP opponent, Karen Handel, who resigned from the Susan G. Komen Foundation amid an uproar after the group ended grants for Planned Parenthood.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: When Karen Handel was an executive at Susan G. Komen, she cut off funding for Planned Parenthood cancer screenings.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: She jeopardized cancer screening for thousands of women.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: If Karen Handel...

NAYLOR: Handel, who is 55, is a former Georgia secretary of state and Fulton County commissioner. She has worked to tie Ossoff to Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders. At last week's state GOP convention, she mocked Ossoff with her take on the Charlie Daniels song "The Devil Went Down To Georgia."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAREN HANDEL: Now, folks, I really don't know if Nancy Pelosi can play the fiddle, but what I do know is she found herself a candidate born out of the left's resistance movement, a candidate that she thinks is her golden fiddle.

NAYLOR: Handel did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. She's received support from national GOP groups, including the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is spending some $4 million on ads like this one that attempts to tie Ossoff to terrorism.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: ISIS is infiltrating America and using Syrians to do it. The FBI warn we can't safely screen every Syrian, yet Jon Ossoff's liberal party bosses brought 10,000 Syrian refugees to America. And Ossoff supports their dangerous Iran nuclear deal, allowing billions for the leading sponsor of terrorism.

NAYLOR: Another outside group tried to associate Ossoff with Kathy Griffin.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Now a celebrity Jon Ossoff supporter is making jokes about beheading the president of the United States.

NAYLOR: Despite the at-times carnival atmosphere of the race GOP operative Lane Flynn, a Handel supporter, says it's good there's enthusiasm on both sides in the election.

LANE FLYNN: It's interesting and fascinating to see the level of energy on both sides, quite frankly. So it's not just the money. There's an incredible amount of enthusiasm. Maybe that's just 'cause this is the only race that's going on.

NAYLOR: Both candidates hope that tonight's debate will help them win over the few voters who polls say haven't yet made up their minds. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Atlanta.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHICAGO AFROBEAT PROJECT'S "CRUNCH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.