DUNWOODY, Ga. (AP) — The top congressional Republican is providing campaign help to Karen Handel in her surprisingly competitive House race against Democratic newcomer Jon Ossoff in a Georgia district that has been in GOP hands for nearly four decades.
Speaker Paul Ryan is appearing in the traditionally conservative suburbs of metro Atlanta on Monday for Handel. She faces a June 20 matchup against Ossoff, who has become a national face for opposition to President Donald Trump.
Polls suggest Georgia's 6th Congressional District race is a tossup, despite having been held by Republicans since 1979.
Scores of Handel supporters and several dozen protesters — most of them directing their criticism at Ryan — gathered Monday at an Atlanta-area hotel ahead of the rally.
Along with a May 25 special election in Montana, the Georgia race is viewed as a barometer for how Trump and Republicans' monopoly control of Washington are playing with voters back home.
Democrats need to flip 24 seats to reclaim a House majority and oust Ryan as speaker.
Handel, an established face in Georgia politics as a former secretary of state, tries to downplay the national significance of her contest.
"This about who is the best person to go to Washington and represent the interests and priorities of residents of the 6th District," she said while campaigning at a local town festival this past weekend.
She's targeting residents like Jim Paine, a former Alpharetta city councilman, who cited Handel's previous elected experience. "She has done it in county government and state government, and she's done it in the district," Paine said, taking a dig at Ossoff, a 30-year-old who lives just south of the district line in Atlanta.
Handel said in an interview that she would have voted with Ryan on the GOP health care bill. She also said Trump's move to fire James Comey as FBI director was "probably overdue." She echoes Ryan in saying there's no need for a special prosecutor to probe potential ties among Trump's presidential campaign and Russian interests. Handel said she trusts the Senate Intelligence Committee to handle any inquiries.
"We should let the process play out," she told AP.
Outside the hotel, Rebecca Ferrante said Ryan's actions on the health care bill convinced her to demonstrate. The 60-year-old from Roswell, where Handel lives as well, said consumer protections in the Affordable Care Act are what allows her — a breast cancer survivor and a heart patient — to have medical care.
"Thank God we have insurance and can meet our expenses," she said, "and they want to make that harder, if not impossible."
Handel, who says she and her husband also buy insurance on an Affordable Care Act exchange, argues that patients like Ferrante would still have reliable coverage through subsidized high-risk pools included in the House GOP plan.
Said Ferrante, "I don't trust that. I don't trust them."
The speaker's rally with Handel comes two weeks after Trump held a fundraiser for Handel while he was in Georgia to address the National Rifle Association.
The candidates, parties and independent groups are on pace to make this the most expensive House race ever, with a final tab that could exceed $30 million — the overwhelming majority of it from outside the district.
A political action committee tied to Ryan and House Republican leaders already has committed more than $5 million, much of it on television ads assailing Ossoff as too liberal for the district.
After appearing with Handel, the speaker is hosting at least one closed fundraiser to benefit his campaign accounts for his own re-election and to support other Republican candidates.
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