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Why Georgia’s Ossoff-Handel runoff could be costliest House race ever


The ad blitz in the race for Georgia’s 6th District started up anew on Thursday as outside groups began to pour millions more into winning what could become the most expensive U.S. House election in the nation’s history.

After a one-day respite, the bombardment of advertisement that already has cost well over $14 million resumed with biting attack pieces on Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff. It’s a taste of what’s to come in an all-out battle between national Republicans and Democrats over the suburban Atlanta district.

Ossoff’s strong showing Tuesday — he came within two points of an outright win — invigorated Democratic groups that still see the race as a chance to deal Donald Trump a devastating blow in a district long held by Republicans. His campaign took in more than $500,000 in the hours after he captured about 48 percent of the vote in the district — about the same level of support Trump notched.

With her No. 2 finish, Handel’s campaign is fast expanding from the shoe-string operation she built as one of 11 Republicans in the race. Republican leaders didn’t get involved the first time around or endorsed her opponents are pledging their support, and national GOP groups launched ads backing her bid. Trump, who has already tweeted his support for Handel, lent his name to a fundraising letter sent by her campaign on Thursday.

Both campaigns are bracing for a bruising nine-week runoff that will further test the already-frazzled patience of voters in the district, which spans from east Cobb to north DeKalb.

“I don’t even pay attention to them any more,” said Toconnicer Parker, who works in finance in Alpharetta. “It’s way too much.”

Rob Simms, a Handel adviser and former National Republican Congressional Committee executive director, predicted this contest will outpace the costliest House election in the nation’s history: a 2012 Florida contest that cost nearly $30 million.

“Look at the amount of money that’s going to be spent through June 20,” he said. “There isn’t another seat in the country that will compare.”

SUVs and Nancy Pelosi

The television ads might be the most voters see of both candidates for a while. After an intense round of media interviews, Ossoff and Handel are focusing on reaching out to supporters who can help them restock their campaign coffers for the final stretch.

Thursday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put $450,000 behind an ad that slams Handel as “just another career politician” and questioned her use of public funds while she was Georgia’s secretary of state.

The DCCC ad hits some of the same themes that Club for Growth and other conservative critics used to slam Handel in the first round of the vote. They derided her as a political wannabe and claimed she used “our tax dollars to pay for her luxury SUV then jetted around on our dime.”

The SUV hit is a familiar one for Handel; it also came up in the Senate race. As secretary of state, she often drove herself in a Lexus SUV rather than take a state car, and was reimbursed about $580 a month for related expenses. Her campaign has said she owned the SUV before she won statewide office.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC with ties to Paul Ryan, was quick out the gates with a digital spot that depicts Ossoff as a creation of Nancy Pelosi. It’s one of a string of advertisements linking Ossoff to the House Democratic leader, who polls abysmally in the conservative-leaning north Atlanta district.

The group already spent about $3 million. Director Corry Bliss, a former Handel aide, said a squad of field operatives will remain in the district through the summer. Ossoff said in an interview that he was prepared for a new round of attacks — and that the Pelosi dig is “the most tired stock partisan attack in the playbook.”

“It’s utterly devoid of substance and offers no solutions for metro Atlanta,” he said. “And it’s the same stuff I’ve already been facing for months with little effect.”

District 6

‘Strong conservative’

Ossoff had no trouble consolidating support among left-leaning voters, and he trounced the other four Democrats in the field. But for Handel, there is more fence-mending to do.

Many Republican officials, including some high-profile leaders, either backed another candidate in the race or stayed out of it entirely. Many began on Wednesday to rally around her.

Gov. Nathan Deal, who has a difficult history with Handel, called her a “strong conservative” and a “steadfast and unwavering champion” for Georgia’s priorities. Deal eked out a runoff victory in 2010 over Handel. She questioned his ethical standards during that bitter gubernatorial race and afterward as well in a book she penned on her experience.

“Republicans will need all hands on deck to defeat Jon Ossoff on June 20th,” Deal said, explaining his stance, “and I look forward to being a part of the effort.”

Democratic groups are hunkering down as well. Evan Lukaske of the DCCC said having a single opponent rather than a crowded field gives Democrats an opening to draw a contrast between Handel and Ossoff on abortion rights and other policy divides.

“We aren’t going to take our foot off the gas pedals for one second through June 20,” he said.

Staff writer Tamar Hallerman contributed to this story.



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