An April Fool’s hoax: Gray falsely claims Handel endorsed him in Georgia Sixth

Republican Bob Gray’s campaign for a suburban Atlanta district seems to delight in getting under his rivals’ skin. But an April Fool’s prank Saturday took the chicanery to a new level.

The former Johns Creek councilman sent out an official campaign release declaring Karen Handel, the leading Republican in the nationally-watched race, had dropped out of the April 18 contest and endorsed him. He echoed it with a tweet from his official account.

It was a hoax, of course. We saw both of them at Saturday morning’s Cobb GOP breakfast and they hardly spared each other a glance. Handel declared she’s the candidate to “kick some Ossoff” – a reference to the surging Democrat – and Gray talked about restoring the American dream.

They are the bitterest of bitter rivals, and this prank probably did no favors to mend strained GOP ties. Conservatives hope to rally around whichever Republican emerges this month to wage a June 20 runoff that will likely feature Jon Ossoff, who has become a face of the national movement to resist Donald Trump.

"The only people who think this dirty trick was funny are Jon Ossoff and the Democrats who stand to gain by a confused and divided Republican electorate,” said Sue Everhart, a former Georgia GOP chair backing Handel. “The Democrats are serious about flipping this seat and these games only help their cause."

The April 18 contest is the most competitive race in the nation since Trump’s election, and it would be an epic embarrassment for Republicans to lose. Long held by Tom Price – now Trump’s health secretary – the district stretches from east Cobb to north DeKalb and has been in GOP hands since Jimmy Carter’s presidency.

Gray’s campaign is known for its political gamesmanship and noted that a recording it attached to the release was legit. It was a robo-call, titled "Handel Drops Endorses Bob Gray," that Handel made supporting Gray’s city council race a few years ago. Here’s a snippet from our story from last week on the behind-the-scenes battle:

Smack at the center of many of the swirling attacks is Bob Gray, a former Johns Creek councilman. Hardly known among Georgia politicos before he entered the race, the snowy-haired telecom executive has emerged as a leading Republican contender in poll after poll.

He hired a string of veterans from Trump’s operation, including ex-Trump Georgia campaign manager Brandon Phillips, and he proudly brandishes the president’s banner in a district Trump won by 1 point in November.

“It’s time to stand with President Trump, and I intend to be a willing partner to move this country forward,” Gray said at a recent east Cobb gathering of Republicans. “It’s time to drain the swamp.”

An affable presence on the campaign trail, Gray and his team play a no-holds-barred version of political gamesmanship that has gotten under their rivals’ skin.

His campaign won a bidding war for the staff of another rival, tea party organizer Amy Kremer, after they quit en masse. And it swiped the #takethehill hashtag used by another rival, former state Sen. Judson Hill, in his campaign ads.

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.