In Tom Price’s backyard, a Republican split over health plan

Even in Tom Price’s home turf, there’s a sharp divide over the embattled GOP health plan among the Republicans racing to replace him.

Several of the top Republicans in the April 18 special election to succeed Price, Donald Trump’s health secretary, say the plan needs broader changes before they can accept it. Others, including those running as Trump loyalists, say they would vote for it in a flash.

The rift offers a peek into the Republican hand-wringing over healthcare in a race that could be an early electoral test for Trump - and also for the popularity of the Affordable Care Act repeal.

The GOP replacement for the measure is likely to be a focal point of the 2018 midterm elections, and Georgia's race could provide an early glimpse of how candidates from both parties handle the debate. The district, which spans from east Cobb to north DeKalb, has been in GOP control for decades, but it only backed Trump by a skinny one-point margin.

Democrats, meanwhile, hope the unrest over healthcare offers them a new opening for their top contender in a nationally-watched race that’s among the first – and most competitive – in the nation since Trump’s election.

“The more closely folks look at the legislation, the clearer it becomes it’s a raw deal,” said Democrat Jon Ossoff, a former Congressional aide who is leading the public and internal polls for the district.

There are 18 candidates in the race to represent the north Atlanta district and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, will square off in a June 20 runoff.

Here’s a closer look at how some top Republican contenders would vote on the health measure:

Former Johns Creek councilman Bob Gray, running as Trump’s “willing partner,” said unequivocally he would vote for the measure if he was in Congress. Shortly after the measure was introduced, Gray distanced himself from the plan and his campaign said it wanted a “more conservative option.”

Bruce LeVell, a Dunwoody business owner who was Trump’s diversity guru, said he stands by Trump “100 percent” and that the bill would bring down costs by opening up competition.

Ex-state Sen. Judson Hill said he can’t support the measure as it stands now because it “punishes” Georgia and other states that didn’t expand the Medicaid program. “A Republican Congress should reward those states for standing against Obamacare,” he said. “That needs to get fixed – and when it is, Georgia taxpayers will see their healthcare access improve.”

Former Secretary of State Karen Handel’s campaign didn’t comment, but earlier she cautioned “there is certainly a lot more work to be done” on the legislation.

David Abroms, a GOP newcomer running as a check on Trump, said he would be a “no” vote. “I said it before and I’ll say it again – unilaterally ramming through healthcare legislation was wrong when Democrats did it in 2010, and it’s the wrong approach for Republicans now,” he said.

Former state Sen. Dan Moody said he's hopeful the measure will still get changed, but added that he will "help finish the job" in killing Obamacare if Congress doesn't act sooner.

More AJC coverage of the Sixth District race:

Republicans, Democrats target Ossoff in Georgia special election

How outside forces play an outsized role in Georgia’s 6th District race

Bob Gray's pro-Trump credentials under fire

Ad blitz for Georgia's Sixth District race already tops $3.7M

House GOP health care plan divides Sixth District candidates

Jon Ossoff rattles conservatives in race for Georgia’s Sixth

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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.