Georgia 6th race takes tense turn after Scalise shooting

Campaign mailers for 6th District candidates Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel. KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC
Campaign mailers for 6th District candidates Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel. KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC

The race for Georgia's 6th Congressional District took a tense turn Thursday as police cordoned off Republican Karen Handel's street after several suspicious packages containing white substances were found, police said.

Tensions spiked a day after a gunman who was said to be infuriated by President Donald Trump ambushed members of the Republican congressional baseball team in a Washington suburb, injuring U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise and three others.

Channel 2 Action News reported that the FBI had joined the investigation after at least five homes in Handel’s neighborhood received the suspicious packages. TV helicopters flying above her Roswell home showed authorities had descended on her leafy street.

In a statement released by her campaign, Handel said that “the packages contained threatening letters and a suspicious substance.”

“The police were quickly notified and street is now being blocked off,” she said. “We will continue to coordinate with law enforcement as necessary.”

One of Handel’s neighbors, Melissa De Feis Lentz, provided a copy of a letter that she received. It said “your neighbor Karen Handel is a dirty fascist” expletive, and to take a “whiff of the powder and join her in the hospital.”

Lentz, a stay-at-home mom, said the packages have shaken up the neighborhood.

“It’s definitely gotten too crazy. It’s sad that this is the world we live in now,” she said. “And I know neither side would condone what’s happening. Even if it’s an idle threat, it’s way too much. No one should speak that way about another human being.”

Democrat Jon Ossoff’s campaign reported Thursday that it had received several threats and had responded by hiring a security detail.

Ossoff campaign manager Keenan Pontoni said threats of violence had been received in recent days and had been discussed with police.

In a statement released by his campaign, Ossoff said: “These recent events speak to the need for a redoubled commitment to civility and unity. The overwhelming majority of Americans want decent and civil political dialogue, and candidates for office and elected leaders must continue to call for calm and unity, even when there are intense differences of opinion.”

Handel’s campaign had hinted at security concerns Thursday, posting a media advisory for her election night party that said it would release the exact location of the event at a later date because of “security purposes.” Asked Wednesday about reports of increased police presence around her campaign’s offices, spokesman Charlie Harper offered few details.

“Events like those in Virginia often draw attention to the activities that first-responders perform every day,” he said. “We’re grateful for them and their service.”

Earlier Thursday, Ossoff was asked whether members of Congress should have personal security in the wake of the shootings.

“I’m going to decline to comment on specific security procedures,” Ossoff said. “Safety is obviously paramount and security is a concern, and should I have the honor of being elected, I’ll take a look at it.”

Tuesday’s runoff is considered a must-win for both national parties, which have poured enormous resources into ensuring a victory. It’s the most expensive contest of its kind, and it’s seen as an early test of Trump’s popularity and a last stand for Democrats desperate for a win in 2017.

The Wednesday ambush sent shockwaves through the race, as reports spread that the gunman — identified by police as 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson — posted disparaging remarks about Handel on social media.

Handel said she was aware of the “vile comments” and called for civil discourse in politics. Ossoff called the social media post sickening.


Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff face each other in a runoff Tuesday to fill the congressional seat Tom Price vacated to become secretary of health and human services.

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