The nationally watched race to represent the 6th Congressional District, which stretches from east Cobb County across north Fulton County to north DeKalb County, will be decided June 20 in a runoff between Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff. The seat opened when Tom Price vacated it to become President Donald Trump’s secretary of health and human services.
Here’s a look at the candidates. You can find more coverage of the race on myajc.com/georgia-politics/.
Karen Handel won a spot in the 6th District runoff on June 20 by capturing 19.8 percent of the vote to take second place in a field of 18 candidates.
As the first Republican to serve as Georgia secretary of state, Handel had the highest name recognition among the special election’s 11 Republicans hopefuls, and she finished among the top GOP candidates in fundraising by taking in about $463,000 ahead of the April 18 election.
Handel promised to cut spending, repeal Obamacare and reduce regulations when she announced her candidacy for the U.S. House seat.
While she held Trump at arm’s length leading up to the initial election, she has embraced the president since gaining a spot in the runoff. He, in turn, participated in a fundraiser for her campaign late last month while he was in Atlanta for the National Rifle Association convention.
Handel has also worked to gain the support of past rivals from previous campaigns.
Handel narrowly lost a battle for the GOP nomination for governor in 2010. She was the top vote-getter in the primary but lost the runoff to Nathan Deal. In 2014, she ran for an open U.S. Senate seat but finished in third place in the Republican primary.
In between those races, she served a short stint in a leadership role with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation before resigning when it reversed its decision to cut ties with the abortion rights group Planned Parenthood.
Her resume also includes leading the Fulton County Commission as its chairwoman; working in the office of Marilyn Quayle, the wife of then-Vice President Dan Quayle; and serving as deputy chief of staff to then-Gov. Sonny Perdue.
A financial disclosure shows that Handel has more than $300,000 in assets, mostly from several investment accounts and mutual funds. She said her consulting firm, Handel Strategy Group, earned about $10,000 last year and is worth between $15,000 and $50,000. Another firm owned by her husband, Steve, the text-messaging service TextGov, is valued at less than $50,000.
Jon Ossoff fell just short of the majority needed for an outright victory in the 6th District special election on April 18, drawing 48.1 percent of the vote. That put the Democrat in the June 20 runoff.
Until he joined the race in January, Ossoff was unknown to most Democrats even in metro Atlanta. But he entered the crowded field with endorsements from U.S. Reps. Hank Johnson and John Lewis and $250,000 in cash. He parlayed that into an unprecedented $8.3 million fundraising haul, with donations from across the country, and he emerged as a face in the resistance to President Donald Trump.
Ossoff’s interest in politics was first stirred as a 17-year-old student at the Paideia School when he read Lewis’ autobiography and was moved to ask the congressman for a job. That turned into an internship in the Atlanta Democrat’s Washington office. As a student at Georgetown University, Ossoff volunteered for Johnson’s 2006 campaign to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney. Ossoff rose to become the deputy communications chief of the campaign, and after Johnson’s congressional victory, Ossoff worked as a legislative aide to the new congressman.
After leaving Johnson’s office, Ossoff — who also is a graduate of the London School of Economics — joined a filmmaking firm, and the topics of his documentaries include corrupt judges in Ghana and atrocities that the Islamic State committed in Iraq.
The north DeKalb County native does not reside in the 6th District, living just south of it so his girlfriend of 12 years, an Emory University medical student, can walk to work. Members of Congress don’t have to live in their districts, but Ossoff has said he will move to the 6th after she graduates.
A financial disclosure shows Ossoff has more than $1.7 million in assets, including more than $250,000 in Apple stock and an additional $50,000 in Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment firm. His England-based documentary company, Insight TWI, is valued at more than $250,000. He also has a stake of at least $50,000 in NWC Partnership, a solar panel installation firm.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked Handel and Ossoff about a few of the biggest policy questions facing the district and the nation.
Does the federal government have a role in making sure Americans have health insurance? If so, what would you do to replace or improve the Affordable Care Act?
Karen Handel: It is not the federal government’s role to dictate health care choices and decisions to Americans. Americans need a stable, affordable health care system that is market-driven and patient-centered. Congress needs to repeal and replace Obamacare before the entire program collapses, leaving tens of millions of us in jeopardy. The recent bill in Congress, although not perfect, would have been a first step forward for the American people.
Jon Ossoff: It’s time to move beyond the 7-year-old partisan debate over the Affordable Care Act. I will work with anyone to promote a health care policy that serves three basic principles: One, no American should suffer or die from preventable or treatable illness. Two, no one should go broke because they get sick. And three, no business should go under or lay off employees because it can’t keep up with health insurance premiums. In Congress, I’ll work in a bipartisan way so Americans have more choices at better prices with higher quality care. For example, we can increase competition in the insurance market across state lines, offer small business tax credits and repeal the medical device tax.
Should insurance companies be able to charge people more for health insurance if they have pre-existing conditions?
Handel: Those with pre-existing conditions should not be priced out of the market. We need an insurance pool to help spread the risk broadly, lower costs and set some boundaries on the premiums.
Ossoff: No. Responsible leaders of both parties agree that no American should face financial ruin, suffer or die because they have a pre-existing condition
Aside from simplifying the nation’s tax code, what changes to the tax system would you make your top priority?
Handel: When looking at the tax code, I would want to lower individual rates with fewer brackets, lower the corporate rate, repatriate overseas income, permanently repeal the death (estate) tax, and review the tax breaks and incentives.
Ossoff: A country reveals a lot about its character by the tough choices it makes to balance the books. Any reform to the tax code should include aggressive simplification to ease compliance and improve profitability and competitiveness of American enterprise. The benefits of tax reform should not only flow to the largest organizations that have extraordinary access to congressional committees, but also to small and medium-size businesses and new ventures that have more difficulty raising capital, developing products and competing with established firms. And in order to lower tax rates, we can eliminate carve-outs and special treatment in the tax code that privilege large organizations at the expense of small businesses.
How would you improve mobility and decrease gridlock in the 6th District?
Handel: As a former county commission chairman, I understand that state and local elected officials, with their local constituents, drive the specific plans for transportation infrastructure. I will work hand in hand with local leaders and fight to ensure that (the district) receives its fair share of federal transportation funding. I will also work to reduce the red tape and bureaucracy that gets in the way and hinders our local governments from doing their jobs to improve infrastructure in our communities.
Ossoff: Our next congressperson has to be prepared to help grow our high-tech economy here into the Silicon Valley of the South and make metro Atlanta one of the world’s great commercial cities. That means we need cutting-edge, efficient, reliable transportation solutions that will power our economy. If the administration introduces a fiscally responsible infrastructure bill, I’ll work in a bipartisan way to make sure it delivers transformative solutions to Georgia.
Where do you stand on the federal investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia?
Handel: “I would suggest that all of us would let the process play out and let the facts take us where the facts take us. … We weren’t in the briefings, and I’m not going to have a rush to judgment until there are facts on the table.”
Ossoff: “We have very good reason for there to be a serious, independent, transparent investigation and for Congress to do its due diligence on a bipartisan basis putting partisan politics aside to get to the truth.”
How would you step up the fight against the Islamic State and other foreign threats?
Handel: She opposes the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran and pledged her unequivocal support for the Taylor Force Act, which would end U.S funding of the Palestinian government if it continues to provide stipends to families of convicted murderers and terrorists. “Why would we pay money to the very people who are killing our own citizens and citizens of our allies?”
Ossoff: He supports the NATO alliance and other other strategic measures to protect U.S. allies and said he would “redouble efforts” to staunch the flow of funding to Hezbollah and other terrorist groups. He takes a critical view of any military intervention that would send more ground troops to the Middle East, saying he worried about being “drawn into another quagmire.” Instead, he said, he would support the aggressive use of air power and special operations forces to assure the “complete destruction” of the Islamic State.