President Donald Trump claimed credit for Republican Karen Handel’s victory in last year’s epic Georgia 6th District race, even though his in-person involvement in the contest to represent a swath of suburban Atlanta was limited.
At a Saturday rally in Pennsylvania for a GOP candidate, the president noted Handel was in the audience and claimed he was responsible for deflating Democrat Jon Ossoff’s poll numbers by 10 percentage points in the first round of voting.
“I brought him down in a period of four days – I got no credit for this from these guys – I brought him down from 58 to 48,” he said, motioning to TV cameras.
“Now he’s in a runoff with Karen, he’s at 48, she’s at 15. By the time Karen and I finish with this guy ... the winner easily, by 5 points, was Karen Handel.”
The race was seen nationally as a referendum on Trump in conservative-leaning suburbs where he struggled, and Handel tried not to alienate Republicans in the district who didn’t support the president.
In the first round of votes, Handel did not run as a pro-Trump loyalist – as several of her GOP opponents did – and largely kept talk of the president at arm’s length.
Trump, meanwhile, didn’t endorse any of the leading Republicans in the first round of votes. But he sent a volley of tweets and robo-calls urging Republicans to vote against. No public poll showed Ossoff at 58 percent of the vote in the 18-candidate field, though some showed him hovering around 50 percent. He finished that round with 48 percent.
After she landed a spot in the June runoff against Ossoff, she wholeheartedly embraced the president and called it an “all hands on deck” race and that she needed all the help she could muster.
Trump’s only in-person appearance came after an April visit to the National Rifle Association’s convention in Atlanta, where he told her at a closed-door fundraiser “you’d better win.” House Speaker Paul Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence also stumped for Handel. She won the June runoff by about 4 points.
At Saturday’s rally, Trump gave Handel his hearty endorsement to another term.
The Roswell Republican avoided a GOP challenger at last week’s qualifying but drew four Democrats, including businessman Kevin Abel, former newscaster Bobby Kaple and gun control advocate Lucy McBath.
“They love the job she’s doing, and I think you’re going to have a good victory now - the people have gotten to know you and they love you in your area,” Trump said. “And I hope I don’t have to go and make speeches all over the place like last time.”
Ossoff, who shattered fundraising records with his $30 million haul for the race, decided against another bid. But he took note of Trump’s attack on Twitter late Saturday, saying “it must be tiring having to work so hard to defend all of these ‘safe’ GOP seats.”
“Have your remaining staff explained why you’re having to do that?” Ossoff added. “Also, while you’re on the line, how much $$$ has your family made off your presidency so far?”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.