- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Republican Karen Handel warned voters Tuesday in the first debate in the runoff race for Georgia’s empty congressional seat that a vote for her rival Jon Ossoff is nothing more than a vote for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and her liberal values.

Mr. Ossoff, a former congressional aide and documentary filmmaker, countered that Ms. Handel, a former secretary of state, is a partisan who will serve as a “rubber stamp” for special interest groups in Washington.

“What we need is an independent voice substantively focused on the issues of concern to this community, not another career politician who has run six times for five different offices,” Mr. Ossoff said, alluding to Ms. Handel’s multiple failed bids for public office.

Ms. Handel, meanwhile, tied Mr. Ossoff to Mrs. Pelosi over and over again, and even actress Jane Fonda on one occasion, as she pushed to make the case that the 30-year-old is not the moderate Democrat he portrays himself to be on the campaign trail.

“To think that a handpicked candidate from Nancy Pelosi is going to do anything other than go along to get along with the liberal left, that’s laughable,” Ms. Handel said, adding that a majority of his donors have come from California, Massachusetts and New York. “They are not from this district, and certainly they don’t represent the values of this district. In fact, your values are some 3,000 miles away in San Francisco,” she said.

The hourlong debate, hosted by WSB-TV in Atlanta, comes two weeks from the June 20 runoff race, which has national implications and became the most expensive congressional election in history — with donors in both parties funneling tens of millions of dollars into the contest.

Democrats are hoping to tout an Ossoff win as proof that Mr. Trump is falling out of favor with voters.

Mr. Trump’s name, however, was rarely mentioned, and most notably came up when Ms. Handel was asked where she might disagree with the commander in chief.

“I would really like to recommend some Twitter policy changes,” she said in response to a question. “Sometimes you should just put down the computer, the phone and walk away.”

For his part, Mr. Ossoff passed on chances to link Ms. Handel to Mr. Trump and instead made the case that he would bring a “fresh” perspective and an “independent” vision to Washington.

The candidates sparred over their records on abortion, terrorism and campaign finance laws. They split over raising the minimum wage, with Mr. Ossoff coming out in favor of an increase and Ms. Handel opposing it.

And they were divided on the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare that Republicans passed in the House.

Mr. Ossoff said people with pre-existing conditions would be left without affordable health care coverage, while Ms. Handel disagreed.

She said Obamacare is collapsing and dismissed the recent analysis from the Congressional Budget Office that said 23 million fewer people would have health coverage under the plan, which passed without the support of a single Democrat.

A poll released last week by WSB-TV/Landmark Communications found the candidates in a statistical dead heat.

Republicans have held the seat since Newt Gingrich was sworn into office in 1979 — though there are some signs that the district is trending Democratic — including the fact that Mr. Trump won the district by less than 2 percentage points four years after Mitt Romney carried it by more than 20 percentage points.

Rep. Thomas Price won re-election last year by 23 percentage points before vacating the seat to become Mr. Trump’s health secretary.

The contest is the last best shot for Democrats to emerge to flip control of a seat in the special elections to fill seats left open by Cabinet picks.

Democrats fell short in the 4th Congressional District in Kansas and in the race for the at-large seat in Montana, where the Republican candidate claimed victory less than 24 hours after body-slamming a reporter who asked him about the GOP’s plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

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