With vote over, 6th District residents recall the good, bad and ugly

Supporters of Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel gathered at a Dunwoody food truck event about a week before the runoff.

Supporters of Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel gathered at a Dunwoody food truck event about a week before the runoff.

They tell stories of obscene gestures and testy run-ins with neighbors that still linger, strained by months of campaigning and sore feelings that won’t soon be forgotten.

Others talk of quiet compassion from residents on both sides of the political divide who put aside their differences over the 6th Congressional District race.

The most expensive U.S. House contest ended one week ago, but some residents say the race that turned suburban Atlanta into a national battleground has left behind a divided and entrenched community in desperate need of healing.

Republican Karen Handel was sworn into office on Monday with a pledge to serve her constituents, regardless of party affiliation, and she’ll have her work cut out for her. Another vote looms in November 2018, and Democrats hope Jon Ossoff’s 4-point loss in a Republican stronghold gives them a chance to strike again.

Voters across the district, which stretches from east Cobb County to north DeKalb County, talked of neighbors insulting neighbors, rude exchanges and stolen signs. There were also tales of civility from Ossoff and Handel supporters who wanted to focus on what unites rather than divides them.

“There were definitely tensions, and I’m personally glad it’s over,” said Seth Dent, a manager at Crazy Love Coffeehouse in Roswell. “In the days around the election, things were crazy. But now it’s like everyone has just breathed a sigh of relief.”

Not everyone. Tamara Stevens said most of her neighbors had a live-and-let-live attitude about the race. But for those who didn’t, she said, “I will never forgive or forget.”

Stevens, who owns a Roswell construction firm, reached out to a neighbor with a Handel sign in her front yard the day after the vote to let her know there were no hard feelings. Soon, they plan to unwind over a glass of wine.

It will be harder to put aside her experience holding Ossoff signs near a polling place on the day of the vote. She said some voters were polite; others made obscene gestures and hurled insults her way.

“I don’t know if this community can heal, and I know we can’t immediately heal,” she said. “There’s so much us-versus-them.”

David Bramlett went door to door campaigning for Handel, and he said the Ossoff supporters who he encountered were friendly and courteous. But as the vote neared, the rancor ratcheted up. A Handel sign he put up near his apartment complex disappeared one night — and was replaced by an Ossoff sign.

“I do not delight in crushing liberals, but it is a good feeling when you work hard for something and come out victorious,” Bramlett said.

‘Still rattled’

For all the money spent on TV and radio ads in the race — well over $40 million — both campaigns and their national allies devoted considerable resources to the painstaking work of door-to-door canvassing. It’s that kind of neighborly contact that drove turnout to record levels for a special election.

Jason Rossiter, an actuary who lives in Atlanta, said he knocked on thousands of doors for Ossoff since the beginning of the year, and he can only pinpoint three or four negative interactions with people who threatened to call the police or were hostile.

“I felt safe in every neighborhood I visited and respected by almost everyone I met,” he said, regardless of whether they backed Handel or Ossoff. “Bitterness isn’t the problem; it’s partisanship.”

But it also heightened tensions.

Kelly Craigmile, an executive search consultant, told of a testy encounter with a woman outside a local polling place who questioned whether she was too close to the site. Craigmile said she tried to lighten the mood, joking that the woman’s dog looks scary.

“And she said, ‘He is, and he hates Democrats.’ Then the light changed and she pulled away,” Craigmile said. “How did we suddenly, because we are urging people to vote, because we support a candidate she doesn’t, become an enemy, a label, a nonhuman to her? I am still rattled.”

Manuel Keita said the political divide feels downright stifling.

“We will continue to be civil, talk about children, school, the yard, how people speed down our residential street — but that is about it. The conversation stops there,” the Dunwoody resident said in an email. “We tolerate each other is about as far as I would go.”

Then there are others who see glimmers of hope. Nancy Overholtzer, a Marietta fraud examiner, said sophisticated voter targeting has made canvassing much more “civilized” this campaign than during her past experiences — once, about two decades ago, she was run off a front porch by a drunk.

Jason Ingraham, an attorney, put up an Ossoff yard sign in a pro-Handel Johns Creek neighborhood. His neighbors had no sign up, and they’ve never discussed politics, but their young son told him months ago they were voting for a Republican.

At a neighborhood swim meet the other night, the boy came up to him and said, “I’m sorry Jon Ossoff didn’t win for you.” Ingraham, an attorney, smiled and gave him a high-five.

“I walked away feeling good about all our neighbors.”


Republican Karen Handel's victory over Democrat Jon Ossoff in the 6th Congressional District was perhaps the nation's most widely watched election this year. Now that it's over, you can see all the twists and turns the campaign took over the past five months — or get a look ahead to upcoming elections — at http://www.myAJC.com/politics.