Karen Handel gets Bikers for Trump help before Georgia election
MARIETTA, Ga. — This neighborhood might have gotten quite a jolt when Bikers for Trump — sporting tattoos galore, black vests and a massive flag with the group’s insignia — showed up in this Atlanta suburb to politely ask people to vote for the Republican candidate in this week’s special congressional election.
At one stop, Chris Hummel and his wife, Karen, assured Chris Cox, founder of Bikers for Trump, and the six other men and women who were going door to door that they had voted early for the Republican, Karen Handel, over Democrat Jon Ossoff.
Mrs. Hummel even shed some tears after learning that three of the bikers had served in the military. Her father served as a battalion leader in the Vietnam War and returned a different man. Years later, when Mrs. Hummel was a baby, he took his own life.
“We have heard about them,” Mrs. Hummel said about the group. “I just think it is cool that it is just kind of grass-roots door-to-door, just common folks. Because that is really what America is.”
Mr. Cox and his crew of volunteers had visited this well-groomed neighborhood before and returned Tuesday to make certain that its heavily Republican voters planned to — or already had — voted for Mrs. Handel. The bikers are hoping to punch a hole in the Democrat-driven storyline that President Trump’s supporters are turning their backs on him.
“For us, it is more about ‘Support Donald Trump,’ and by supporting Karen Handel we are supporting Donald Trump,” said Mr. Cox, standing in a cul-de-sac next to his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and steps away from a miniature soccer goal. “This is kind of like a crown jewel of the Republican Party right now — holding on to this thing.”
The political activity from Bikers for Trump is symbolic of the interest that the Georgia race has drawn from both parties as well as outside groups battling for bragging rights in a closer-than-expected battle. The historically Republican 6th District was once Newt Gingrich’s seat, but Mr. Trump carried it by less than 2 percentage points over Hillary Clinton in November.
Roughly $50 million has been spent on the race, which is neck-and-neck, according to polls, campaigns and activists from both sides.
For his part, Mr. Cox is looking to win a public relations game, and is eager to spread the message that are Bikers for Trump are not the lawbreakers portrayed by Hollywood stereotyping, but their blue-collar workers and military veterans are an untapped resource that Republicans can turn to over the years to come.
“I am hoping that when this is over the headlines read that Bikers helped swing District 6 for Handel,” he said, adding that his goal is to bring 1,500 to 3,000 bikers to the polls that otherwise would not have voted. “If she wins this by a small margin, we certainly did swing this thing.”
Over the weekend, Mrs. Handel and Mr. Ossoff delivered their closing message to voters. The Republican argued that her experience should give her the edge, and the Democrat said he would bring an independent voice to Washington.
The winner will replace Rep. Tom Price, who resigned to become Mr. Trump’s health and human services secretary.
Mr. Price and former Gov. Sonny Perdue rallied behind Mrs. Handel on Saturday, reminding activists that Republicans have held this seat since Mr. Gingrich’s first victory in 1978.
“You all want lower taxes, right?” Mr. Price said at a rally. “You all want a government that respects you. You all want patient-centered health care and you all want national security to be an absolute priority for the federal government. If you want any one of those items, then who you want for this race is Karen Handel for the 6th District of Georgia.”
Directing his message to voters who might be dismayed by Mr. Trump, Mr. Perdue said the president has shown over the course of his tenure that he “keeps his promises.”
“The president is a true populist. He cares for the little people, and he will look out for you as well,” he said.
Mrs. Handel said voters should not be fooled when Mr. Ossoff talks about cutting spending, balancing budgets and reaching across the aisle to work with the other party.
“There is a difference between my opponent, who likes to talk about what he is going to do, and me, someone who has actually done it,” she said.
Mr. Ossoff, meanwhile, campaigned with civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, who said this year that he does not consider Mr. Trump a “legitimate president.”
Mr. Lewis said at a cookout that Mr. Ossoff is “smart, young and just good.”
“What I have said in the past is that the vote is precious,” Mr. Lewis said. “It is almost sacred in a democratic society. It is the most powerful nonviolent instrument or tool that we have, and we must get everybody to use it, OK?”
Mr. Ossoff told volunteers at his Sandy Springs field office that the election will be extraordinarily close and every vote will count.
“The hours you are putting in today can change the course of history,” he said.
Money and ads
Mr. Ossoff nearly won the seat in the April primary when he fell just shy of the 50 percent needed to win the seat outright, without a runoff.
Mrs. Handel finished a distant second in a crowded race that has grabbed the attention of activists and donors from across the country, though that was partly because Mr. Ossoff was the only major Democrat in the “jungle primary,” while several high-profile Republicans split their party’s voters.
Mr. Ossoff had raised more than $23 million through May 31, according to his latest campaign finance filing — $15 million of which he raised since April. Most of that came from outside the state. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also has invested more than $6 million in the race.
Mrs. Handel has raised $4.5 million. Millions more have been spent on her behalf by outside groups — most notably the Congressional Leadership Fund, which has poured $7 million into radio and TV advertising as well as phone banking and get-out-the-vote efforts.
Polls show the race is tight, and even some Republican operatives fear the momentum favors Democrats.
While some Republicans say Mrs. Handel is a flawed candidate, others attribute Mr. Ossoff’s ability to stick around to the anti-Trump blowback that has helped the Democrat raise more money than ever before for a congressional race, which caught the party off guard.
“You could have had Ronald Reagan and this guy would have been doing well,” said Jay Williams, a Republican Party strategist. “We gave him oxygen, we gave him the ability to breathe and he was able to parlay that into something.”
The Bikers, though, said they couldn’t imagine Mr. Ossoff pulling out a victory. They said the idea that voters are souring on Mr. Trump in this district is a bogus storyline pushed by inside-the-Beltway talking heads.
“I love Trump because as far as I am concerned he is already a success because he already broke the system,” said Mark Sims, 59, a Naval Academy graduate who has a tattoo on his forearm of the A-6 attack aircraft, which he flew in the Marine Corps.
“The system was telling me who we had to vote for, who we had to support, telling me everything else. Trump comes along, and he is outside all of that,” Mr. Sims said.
Voters are split
Democrats, though, say the pro-Ossoff energy is high.
“I have seen more signs of his than I had seen of Obama,” said Scott Cobb, 45. “I have seen more signs of his than Hillary. So there is more of a following around him than really any other candidate I have seen in this area.”
Mr. Cobb said he believes people who sat on their hands in the last election realize they made a mistake.
Jon McPhail, a 64-year-old lawyer, canvassed for the first time over the weekend.
“It was great — woke a couple of people up,” he said with a laugh before explaining what persuaded him to do something he had never done before. “The time is now. I think democracy hangs in the balance. It is time to make some changes.”
Republicans told canvassers from the Congressional Leadership Fund that Mr. Ossoff is too young, too liberal and too inexperienced.
“I think he has had a silver spoon shoved up his butt since he was born,” said Daniel Smith, 30. “He just seems very entitled. Also he speaks nationally like he’s further left than whatever that is and he speaks here as if he is on the right side of moderate. So why would I trust him?”
Asked why she supports Mrs. Handel, Joyce Whatley said, “Because I am a Republican, because I am a conservative.”
She said Mr. Ossoff and other Democrats seem to be against everything she is for: a strong military, secure borders, fiscal responsibility and stricter voter ID laws.
“To me, those things are common sense, so things work like they are supposed to work,” the 73-year-old said.
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