President Donald Trump praised Karen Handel as an "incredible" Republican candidate for Georgia's 6th District at an Atlanta stop on Friday and slammed Democrat Jon Ossoff as a supporter of "open borders" that would lead to a wave of crime.
Handel has wholeheartedly embraced Trump ahead of a June matchup against a surging Democrat, securing financial help for her costly campaign but also embarking on potentially treacherous political ground in a district that was skeptical of him.
In the run-up to last week’s special election, Handel was chastised by GOP opponents for rarely summoning Trump’s name at campaign events and confronted by voters demanding to know how ardently she supported the president. But after landing a spot in the June 20 runoff against Ossoff, she has gladly accepted Trump’s help in what Republicans see as a must-win special election.
“She’s totally for the NRA and she’s totally for the Second Amendment. So get out and vote," Trump said at the NRA event. "You know, she’s running against someone who is going to raise your taxes to the sky and destroy your healthcare.”
He also poked fun at the crowded special election last week to represent the suburban Atlanta district.
“By the way, in primaries, let’s not have 11 Republicans run for the same position," he said. "It’s too nerve shattering."
It was the latest in a series of public interventions from a White House said to be nervously watching the race for the 6th District, which stretches from east Cobb County to north DeKalb County.
Trump hosted a glitzy fundraiser for Handel on Friday after a speech at the National Rifle Association’s convention in Atlanta, guaranteeing a hefty cash infusion for a candidate who has long struggled to keep up with the fundraising hauls of her opponents.
He also sent a barrage of tweets ahead of last week's election and recorded a robo-call encouraging Republicans to vote against Ossoff, a 30-year-old former congressional aide. And he and Handel shared what the candidate called a “very gracious” phone call after Republicans narrowly blocked Ossoff from an outright win.
“We know what’s at stake here is bigger than any one person,” she said of the president’s support. “In the next two months, we need every single Republican we can get — including the president — to be coalesced and united.”
Ossoff said in a statement the president is "misinformed" on the issues.
"I'm focused on bringing fresh leadership, accountability, and bipartisan problem solving to Washington to cut wasteful spending and grow metro Atlanta’s economy into the Silicon Valley of the South," he said.
Trump’s growing role in the campaign risks invigorating Democrats and turning off some Republicans in a district he struggled to win. Trump carried the establishment-friendly district by less than 2 points in November, underperforming past Republican presidential candidates who notched landslide margins there. And the GOP candidates in last week’s election who were most closely aligned with the president fared poorly.
Scores of Democrats reacted to the news of Trump’s fundraiser for Handel late Tuesday with vows to pump more money into Ossoff’s campaign. In an interview Wednesday, Ossoff said he was not worried about Handel’s appearance with Trump.
“Time will tell. I’m not particularly concerned about the comings and goings of figures from Washington,” he said. “I’m focused on the economic message I’ll be taking to the voters of the 6th District.”
National Democrats tried to seize on the moment. Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez sent a string of tweets saying that Handel and Trump are "2 peas in a pod" and are "all talk, bad action."