Why the House GOP’s campaign chief isn’t sweating Atlanta’s hottest suburban races

U.S. Reps. (from left) Karen Handel, Rob Woodall and Barry Loudermilk during a recent panel discussion in Atlanta. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM



U.S. Reps. Karen Handel and Rob Woodall aren’t keeping one very important Ohio Republican awake at night.

That was the message from U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, on Tuesday as he discussed the House GOP’s prospects for maintaining control of the chamber in November.

“I feel pretty confident we’re going to win both those races,” Stivers said of Georgia’s 6th and 7th District contests in an interview in the NRCC’s Capitol Hill headquarters. “So if (Democrats) want to spend money and try to beat some kind of index – if they think this is Vegas – then I welcome ‘em to, but we’re going to win those races.”

Stivers’ confidence comes as top Democrats grow increasingly optimistic about their chances of competing in the two longtime Republican strongholds, which include many of Atlanta’s well-off northern suburbs.

Lucy McBath, Handel's Democratic opponent, got shoutouts from Hillary Clinton and Michael Bloomberg this week, and a gun control group tied to the billionaire announced plans to pour $5 million into ads targeting 15 U.S. House races, including Georgia's 6th District. And in the Gwinnett and Forsyth-based 7th District, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently upped its support for Carolyn Bourdeaux, the political science professor seeking to deny Woodall a fifth term in Congress.

Stivers said Woodall has "done a great job reaching out into non-traditional Republican communities," a nod to Gwinnett's fast-changing demographics. And of Handel, Stivers said she is simply a "pro," pointing to her 4-point victory in last year's record-smashing special election.

Democrats are zeroing in on suburban women to help deliver them the House majority this fall, pinning their hopes on the stark gender divide surrounding Donald Trump. That strategy has put female GOP candidates on the defensive as they seek to appeal to both the president's fans and Republican women turned off by his brash style.

Handel, Stivers said, has a special pull with those voters because she herself “is the quintessential suburban woman.”

“She represents her constituents very, very well,” he said. “She’s had some big successes in her short time in Congress, and I think the voters are going to return her to Congress.”

Handel and Woodall have both focused on their own D.C. records on the campaign trail this year, emphasizing recent votes on human trafficking, opioid and tax legislation. Stivers said he expects the latter to be a "closing argument" for many Republicans this year.

“The real question is why would anybody want to change horses now when the economy is so good,” he said.

In an interview earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, Stivers’ Democratic counterpart, said his party plans to message heavily against the tax law in wealthy suburban districts like Georgia’s 6th and 7th.

“I believe that you’re going to see the tax debate talked about quite a bit in this district,” he said of the 6th, “and it’s not going to be in a way where Karen Handel is very proud of the fact that she voted to increase costs on homeowners.”

Read more about Georgia’s top congressional races: 

ExploreHandel, Woodall try to focus campaigns on themselves instead of Trump
ExploreIn Georgia, Republican women try to navigate Trump era
ExploreHouse Democrats bolster Woodall challenger in 7th District
ExploreKaren Handel slams opponent for Hillary Clinton ties
ExploreFederal tax overhaul a hot topic for Georgia candidates, pro and con
ExploreWhy Georgia Democrats are zeroing in on Atlanta’s suburbs
ExploreGOP employs familiar tactic in Georgia, tying opponents to Pelosi

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