Opinion: Coverage for the long-haul in 6th District

Last Tuesday, as it became clear the Republican Karen Handel would be elected in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, the AJC’s newsroom worked furiously to get that news to you first.

From the April special election for the seat, to the campaign and the runoff election, and through the aftermath of the vote, a number of our most talented journalists have dedicated themselves to bringing you the information worth knowing.

It was an unusual race.

When President Donald Trump chose Tom Price to be his Secretary of Health and Human Services, most observers thought that filling his seat in the House of Representatives would be routine.

After all, Republicans had dominated the district for decades. It was drawn to give them a huge advantage in elections.

But then things changed.

“Suddenly we had an open congressional seat that attracted 18 candidates, including an unknown Democrat who had managed to raise an unheard of amount of money in a flash,” said Susan Potter, the editor in charge of the AJC’s political coverage.

Her role is one of the big and important jobs in our newsroom and she’s a thoughtful and demanding editor. As the race drew more and more attention, she coordinated a very talented group of journalists who regularly cover politics, with assists from all over the newsroom.

One of the members of our political team, Washington Correspondent Tamar Hallerman, expected to spend most of her time covering Price’s nomination, along with that of former governor Sonny Perdue for agriculture secretary. Two Georgians in the president’s cabinet would be a handful, it seemed.

“Little did I know when Price’s health nomination was announced that it would create such a big fight to replace him,” she said. “I covered his congressional race in 2016, and it was so uneventful and noncompetitive that there wasn’t much to cover.”

I also remember the day Greg Bluestein first wrote about Jon Ossoff in January. I skimmed through the story and didn’t think twice. Up until that point, I had never seen a Democrat gain much traction in the 6th,” she said.

As you might imagine, the demands of reporting this story involve odd hours and long days. As the campaign, which turned out to be the most expensive House race in history, twisted and turned, reporters inevitably found their personal and professional lives intersecting.

Such was the case with Bluestein.

“I remember my first story on who could run for the seat mentioned about a dozen Republicans, and one paragraph near the bottom about some potential Democratic names launching a long-shot bid,” he said. “Ossoff called me while I was visiting a friend in a hospital on a rainy January day. I had never heard of him before, but was impressed that he had already managed to line up $250K in commitments.”

Bluestein seemed to be everywhere, and even his boss had trouble keeping up with him.

“I’m not sure Greg Bluestein ever sleeps,” Potter said. “He worked days, nights, weekends, following every development in the race. ‘I’m a happy warrior,’ he’d say when I’d suggest he slow down a bit.”

As the race began getting a lot of attention around the country, the AJC’s reporters starting showing up on national networks and heard from family and friends all over.

“We’ve wondered what it feels like to be Ohio,” said Jim Galloway, our veteran political columnist, about all of the national attention. “Now we know.”

One day, when Galloway appeared on national TV, his sister “in far-away California was suddenly creeped out by my voice, talking about the Sixth on MSNBC.”

Bluestein became the face of the AJC’s coverage.

“I’d look up at the TV and see him on CNN or hear him on the radio,” said Potter. “He was everywhere.”

Hallerman, who also provided her insights to national broadcast outlets, saw the interest build in Washington as the race went from local contest to national headliner.

“Friends from national papers stopped by my desk in the Capitol one by one, and later in droves, to ask me about this race,” she said. “I ran into a ton of national and international reporters on the trail. Chinese camera crews following Handel, British papers questioning Ossoff. I did two hits for Canadian television.”

Our reporters had their favorite moments, highlighted by Galloway’s.

“Definitely the Bikers for Trump going door-to-door in one of the richest, best-educated congressional districts in the United States,” he said. “Such a very good fit.”

Bluestein had a moment he says he’ll never forget.

He was driving home from covering a campaign event, talking to a Republican official worried about the enthusiasm around Ossoff’s campaign and the canvassers flooding the district.

“I had to cut him off,” Bluestein said. “There was a volunteer walking door-to-door at my house as I pulled into the driveway.”

Like a number of us at the AJC, Bluestein lives in the 6th District. “I was born in Sandy Springs, moved to Roswell in high school, married an east Cobb girl and live in Dunwoody,” he said.

Bluestein took his children to some weekend campaign events, as he balanced the jobs of young father and political reporter.

The commitment of our political team, many of whom work behind the scenes, lets us produce the kind of coverage you’ve told us you want as a subscriber. After all, it’s worth knowing what’s really going on in an election this important before you vote.

We’ll continue to provide this information, and we plan to increase our commitment to political coverage.

The national attention is gone. But we’re not. Hallerman will be covering everything Handel does in Washington now that she’s suddenly the most famous freshman congressman in Congress. And Bluestein and Galloway will be all over what’s expected to be another bitter battle over that seat next November.

As a subscriber, a good way for you to keep up is to bookmark MyAJC.com/politics. Whether you are used to finding our coverage on Facebook, in print or any of the other ways we serve it, all the politics coverage ends up there in one spot so you don’t miss a thing.

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