Last year, a spotlight shined on Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, home to roughly two out of every five Jews in metropolitan Atlanta.
Some $55 million in total – the most ever in a U.S. House campaign – was spent by candidates seeking that open seat.
Democrat Jon Ossoff, the darling of liberals from the salons of New York to the shores of San Francisco, emerged atop an 18-candidate “jungle primary,” nearly winning the majority needed to claim the prize outright. Democrats were hopeful they would “flip” the seat vacated by Republican Tom Price – who briefly became the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services – and before him by Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson.
But money and enthusiasm could not push Ossoff across the finish line and Republican Karen Handel, who finished second in the primary, won the general election (53 percent to 47 percent) in a district last represented by a Democrat in 1978.
This year, the spotlight isn’t quite as bright.
Now-incumbent Handel faces a challenge from Democrat Lucy McBath, who made her name as a gun control advocate after her teenage son was shot to death in 2012.
Online political sites list the race as either “leaning” or “likely” Republican.
The 6th is carved from eastern Cobb County, northern DeKalb County and northern Fulton County, and includes all or parts of Tucker, Brookhaven, Chamblee, Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, Johns Creek, Alpharetta, Milton and Roswell.
Based on data compiled in 2013, the Berman Jewish DataBank estimated that 58,000 Jews accounted for 8.38 percent of the district’s population, the highest percentage of Jews in any of the state’s 14 congressional districts.
President Donald Trump received 48 percent of the vote in the 6th District in 2016 and Democrat Hillary Clinton, 47 percent.
U.S. House members are paid a $174,000 annual salary.
Candidate for 6th Congressional District:
Over the past 50 years, incumbent members of the U.S. House of Representatives have won re-election at a rate of 85 to 90 percent.
That said, Karen Handel isn’t being complacent about winning re-election to the 6th District seat she won in a 2017 special election.
The Republican incumbent touts positive economic news – tweeting “lower taxes=better economy=more opportunities for all” – while focusing attention on her efforts on such issues as health care, combatting sex trafficking and the opioid crisis.
Handel serves on the Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Committee on the Judiciary. She mentions with pride her appointment by the GOP leadership to the Joint Economic Committee, comprised of Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate.
First-term members generally are seen more than heard. But Handel received a measure of 24-hour news cycle attention as she presided over the House on June 22 and cited House rules to stop California Democrat Ted Lieu from playing a recording of crying children separated from their parents under the Trump administration’s policy to deter illegal immigration.
The political blog site FiveThirtyEight listed Handel as voting in line with President Donald Trump’s position 87.5 percent.
“I have worked hard every single day to do my absolute best for the people of the 6th District, and doing that means that sometimes I agree with the president and other times I don’t,” Handel told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in September.
According to her Sept. 30 campaign finance report, Handel had raised $8.16 million and spent $7.2 million, leaving $978,000 cash on hand.
Following a career in business, Handel served as chairman of the Fulton County board of commissioners from 2003 to 2006, and then was elected Georgia’s Secretary of State, serving from 2007 to 2010, until she resigned to pursue an ultimately unsuccessful bid for governor.
In 2011 she became senior vice president of public policy at Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a breast cancer charity, but left a year later, opposing the organization’s decision to restore (after eliminating) funding for Planned Parenthood.
Handel disagrees with her Democratic opponent, Lucy McBath, a gun control advocate. “We can make sure our schools are safe and our communities are safe without undermining the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” Handel told WSB-TV in August.
This election is about “the difference between meaningful results for hardworking Georgians and rhetoric and resistance from the left,” Handel told the local Republican Jewish Coalition chapter in September.
Speaking to the RJC, Handel called McBath “your traditional far left Democrat. Already she supports mandating wages. She supports health care for all, universal health care … She tries to walk the line that she’s not going to support [House minority leader] Nancy Pelosi. Give me a break, of course she is.”
Democrats have “taken the largest step possible to the left and there really is a segment among Democrats who are full bore, card-carrying socialists. They really believe in that form of government, which is the antithesis of the government of the United States of America,” Handel said.
Handel supported Trump’s decision to relocate the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. On May 14, Handel tweeted, “Today marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel. The U.S. Embassy’s move to Jerusalem underscores that our commitment to Israel is as strong today as it was then. Just as the need for Israel remains as strong as when it was founded. Happy birthday Israel!”
Candidate for 6th Congressional District:
Lucy McBath had planned to seek a seat in the Georgia House, but turned her attention to the 6th Congression-al District after the Feb. 14 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in which 17 people were killed.
Gun control is personal for McBath, whose 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, was killed in 2012, in a dispute over loud music, while sitting in a car outside a Jacksonville, Fla., gas station. The shooter, who used Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law as his defense, was convinced in 2014 of first-degree murder.
The 58-year-old McBath hopes to do what Jon Ossoff could not in last year’s special election – the most expensive congressional race in history – defeat Republican Karen Handel and “flip” the 6th District, which has been in GOP hands since 1979.
McBath advanced to the general election against now-incumbent Handel by defeating Kevin Abel in the July 22 Democratic runoff.
She grew up a witness to activism. Her father, Lucien Holman, a dentist and owner of “The Black Voice,” a newspaper serving the African-American community in Joliet, Ill., was president of the Illinois NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and served on the organization’s national executive board.
Her own public career began after her son was killed.
“Everything I knew about my life changed,” McBath told the Jewish Democratic Women’s Salon in June. “Everything I’ve gone through has prepared me for this moment.”
“What I have is credibility and a reality of experiences that speaks to the crucial and the critical conflicts, and crises and visions that you are making in your own families,” she said.
A 30-year flight attendant with Delta Airlines, McBath became a spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety, which the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported has invested more than $3.7 million in support of her campaign, and Moms Demands Action for Gun Sense in America.
She appeared on stage at the 2016 Democratic national convention in support of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who endorsed McBath, via Twitter, after the July run-off. Clinton reportedly also recorded a telephone message on McBath’s behalf and hosted a fundraiser.
According to her Sept. 30 campaign finance report, McBath had raised $1.26 million, spent $558,000, and had cash on hand of $706,400.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in July added McBath to its “Red to Blue” program that provides organization and fundraising support to candidates it thinks can win Republican-held seats.
McBath told the Jewish women’s forum that she favored the “two-state solution” to resolve Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, and disagreed with President Donald Trump’s decision to relocate the U.S. Embassy in Israel.
“I oppose, at this time, the moving of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, until a deal for peace has been brokered,” McBath said, adding that she considers Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital.
McBath said that her experience as a two-time survivor of breast cancer informs her stance on health care. “When I was diagnosed, not once, but two times, those were very critical times in my life when I was scared to death,” she said.
“I do advocate a robust public option for all of us,” McBath said of the debate over the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”
McBath said that she has the ability to work across party lines because that was her approach as a gun control advocate.
“I am a woman and we are problem solvers,” McBath told the Jewish women’s forum. “We do it every single day.”