Former US House Rep Karen Handel fields questions from a small group of supporters at the Franklin Roundtable Federal Task Force in Marietta March 26, 2019. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
Photo: Steve Schaefer
Photo: Steve Schaefer

The Jolt: Karen Handel on Donald Trump’s popularity in the Sixth District

Ben Burnett, the Alpharetta city councilman and podcaster, on Tuesday posted an interview with Karen Handel, the former Republican congresswoman who wants her Sixth District seat back.

The dialogue was relatively tame. Guns and impeachment may be the hot topics in Washington this week, with U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath playing a key role in both debates, but neither subject came up in the podcast. Nor did Handel mention Republican rivals such as state Sen. Brandon Beach of Alpharetta or businesswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene -- at least, not by name.

Handel, who lost to McBath last November, appeared to rule herself out as someone likely to be picked by Gov. Brian Kemp to replace U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who will retire on Dec. 31. “I would never presume,” she said. “My job is to be focused on Georgia Six, and bring it back home for the people of this district.”

But Handel did talk about her loss to McBath last November:

“I was outspent ten-to-one. That is swimming against the current there. So that was very, very difficult. Secondly, we as Republicans need to be honest with ourselves. The Democrats simply beat us from a ground-game, turnout perspective in 2018.

“There were some 200,000 statewide hard Republicans that were Trump supporters, that voted in ’16, that did not come out to vote in ’18. And that was just a function of resources being put to the ground game to turn people out, and it just wasn’t there. It wasn’t there in metro Atlanta.”

Handel also looked toward November 2020, and this is where the conversation got more interesting. Said Handel:

“The president’s approval ratings in the Sixth have pretty much held pretty solid. Right around 48[%] straight across. That’s fine, that’s good. They hold there at 48, and I will take this seat back in 2020. There’s no question about that.”

It is possible that Handel has paid for some recent polling of the Sixth District, but it’s a tad early for that. And in the interview, she said that her current emphasis is on fundraising, not spending.

Trump did carry the Sixth District in 2016, with 48 percent of the vote. But nearly three years have passed since then.

A July poll by NBC News gave President Donald Trump a 48 percent approval rating in Georgia. A survey by Public Policy Polling, conducted in roughly the same time period, put the president’s approval rating at 45 percent.

But both approval ratings are statewide figures. Simple math tells you that if Trump scores higher in some places – say, rural Georgia -- his ratings would be lower in other spots. Metro Atlanta’s suburbs, for instance.

There’s a reason to focus on this detail. A recent report by ProPublica, the non-profit news organization, suggests that GOP candidates for Congress are being kept in the dark about what voters in their districts think about President Trump:

Since Trump’s election in 2016, critical “voter scores” — sophisticated polling-based analytics that the RNC provides to party committees and candidates — have conspicuously omitted an essential detail for any down-ballot race: how voters in specific states and congressional districts feel about Trump. Republican insiders believe these analytics are being withheld to try and prevent GOP candidates from publicly distancing themselves from the president or leaking unfavorable results that embarrass Trump.

“They don’t want you to know if it isn’t good,” says former RNC chairman Michael Steele, a vocal Trump critic. “There’s a lot of data they’re sitting on that they’re not sharing.” Steele adds that today, “the RNC is not an independent actor; the RNC is now a part of the Trump campaign. The question now isn’t, ‘What do you need?’ The question is, ‘Do you support Donald Trump?’”

***

No Georgia Democrat in the U.S. House has publicly endorsed impeaching President Donald Trump, but two will face a major choice this morning when the House Judiciary Committee votes to formally define an impeachment inquiry.

Committee members Hank Johnson of Lithonia and Lucy McBath of Marietta have been on the record this summer saying more investigating was needed before they were willing to commit to impeachment proceedings. Now they’ll need to weigh in on a resolution formally setting the parameters for a probe.

A Johnson spokesman said the seven-term congressman will vote in favor of the resolution. McBath’s office did not respond to our requests for comment.

Impeachment is one of the most sensitive items on McBath’s plate. She’s currently running for re-election in one of the most competitive U.S. House districts in the country, where every move she makes is being closely-watched. Adding to the pressure, she’s also eyeing a bid for Senate. She’d immediately be attacked by the GOP for voting to proceed with impeachment, yet she’s also being pressured by her Democratic base for not joining more than 134 House Democrats calling for Trump’s ouster.

GOP poll conducted in her 6th District found that 60% of voters oppose impeaching the president, including 56% of independent voters.

***

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, the top Republican on the House Judiciary panel, seems to be enjoying the two Democratic streams of contradictory messaging on impeachment. This morning’s committee vote is “a meaningless reiteration of existing committee authorities, allowing the chairman to keep this story in the news when moderate Democrats simply want it to go away,” Collins said in a statement. 

***

Here’s the lede of a piece just posted by our AJC colleague Mark Niesse:

Georgia both canceled more voter registrations and registered more new voters than most states before last year’s election, according to a recent federal report on elections.

The data were less clear-cut when it came to absentee ballot rejections, where Georgia ranked in the middle of the pack when compared to other states.

***

Two dozen African-American state lawmakers in Georgia have lined up behind Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. The announcement comes ahead of this evening’s debate in Houston.

***

U.S. Senate candidate Teresa Tomlinson has revealed another endorsement this morning. Atlanta City Councilman Amir Farokhi said the Democrat “does more than talk about progressive ideas. She gets them done.” He joins a handful of politicians who recently backed the former Columbus mayor, including ex-Gov. Roy Barnes and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young.

***

Gov. Brian Kemp recently announced that he had created a “rural strike team” to help bring new business to struggling parts of the state that often go overlooked. Charlie Hayslett, who keeps a watch on rural Georgia in a blog entitled “Trouble in God’s County,” likes the idea. We’ll tease you with a couple paragraphs:

The state of Georgia arguably has one of the strongest and most sophisticated economic development infrastructures in the nation, but my sense is that its work has been largely siloed and not well integrated with other departments and agencies of state government. The state’s urban-rural divide and the deterioration in much of rural Georgia constitutes a truly strategic problem.

But Hayslett says that a triage process needs to identify the casualties that can be saved:

I can take the governor to 50 or so counties where he ought to turn out the lights and call it a day. We can’t do that, of course, but it ought to be possible to invest discretionary tax dollars and other public resources in areas that at least have a fighting chance of generating a return, in terms of new growth and economic prosperity. In other words, resist the normal political temptation to attack the worst problems first; instead, identify the regions that still have a pulse and see if they can be saved.

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