Republican Karen Handel made a stop at the Wright’s Gourmet Sandwich Shop in Dunwoody on June 15, shaking hands and greeting the lunch crowd as she makes her final pitches to voters before the June 20 runoff with Democrat Jon Ossoff.
“The Wright’s have been friends and supporters for a while … this has always been a good, supportive area for me,” she said in a one-on-one interview while seated on the popular restaurant’s patio.
The northern suburbs of Atlanta have long been a Republican stronghold, but a recent poll shows political newcomer Ossoff and Handel, once the secretary of state, in a neck-and-neck race.
Ossoff has always been campaigning in the city, where some residents believe it can no longer be considered a shoo-in for Republican candidates.
Many politicos are saying the closeness is part of a revived Democratic movement after the election of Donald Trump as president. When asked if she believed this race was a referendum on Trump, Handel said it was not.
“The only people who think that are reporters like you,” she said. “It’s really not. If you go around and talk to those in this district, it is not about that — it is about who is the best person to represent them in the 6th District.”
Handel said her past as the Georgia secretary of state, the chair of the Fulton County Commission and CEO of the North Fulton Chamber of Commerce makes her the best qualified candidate to represent the 6th Congressional District, calling Ossoff a “junior staffer who has made a couple of films.”
“And what I hear from voters … and it’s really ramped up in the past three weeks, is there is real concern about the fact that Jon Ossoff does not live in this district and it makes people angry,” she added. “They want someone they know that has a connection to the community and so that’s why I’m feeling really good … [It’s] one of the reasons I’m feeling really good about things.
“And I’ve said from the beginning of this campaign that if I have the privilege of representing the 6th District … my job, my responsibility is to be an extension of the people of the 6th District. It is not to be an extension of the White House or even the leadership in the House, but of the people here who are across the district, who vote for me or don’t vote for me, that I represent their interests,” she said.
Handel made the Dunwoody stop about 1 p.m., at about the same time residents in her Roswell neighborhood reported they had received suspicious packages in their mailboxes. The Roswell police and FBI are investigating.
During the interview in Dunwoody, she said the shooting of GOP House members at a baseball practice in Virginia the day before is cause for concern.
“When it comes to the campaign itself, we’ve been really focused on what is happening in the district,” she said. “I think if anything for folks, it injects a higher level of seriousness about making sure we are responsible as we are talking about the issues and not being to shrill about things.”
She also said the shooting incident in Virginia, as well as the May 22 bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, and the terror attack in London on June 4, indicated a need for a “serious leader” in Congress.
“These are really serious and challenging times just with those issues,” she said. “Add on top of that the budget issues and what we need to do to get the economy growing at much faster clip … these are times for a serious leader, someone who has some maturity in skills and experience and in mind.”
When asked about her feelings about gay couples adopting children – an issue she stated she opposed in 2010 during her unsuccessful bid for governor – Handel said her “faith calls me to a very different place on these issues.”
“My faith at the same time calls me to be compassionate and what I have always believed is that what has to be paramount is what is the best interest of the child,” she said.
Asked to explain further, she said, “The best interest of the child. Period, end of paragraph. That’s not for you to decide. That’s not for me to decide. It’s for the child advocates to decide, whether that be the court or the child’s guardian. The child’s best interest must be paramount.”
Handel also said that while Republican turnout during the April 18 election was low, turnout is strong among her supporters.
“I feel really, really good,” she said. “Turnout is looking solid among my supporters. Everybody did the analysis in the primary and Republican turnout was kind of low compared to Democrats. That gap has closed.”
She stressed that what she is hearing from voters is their dismay that Ossoff does not live in the district. He grew up in the district and has said he is living with his fiancée near Emory University as she finishes medical school.
“Steve and I have lived in the district almost 25 years – almost more years than Jon’s been alive,” she said with a chuckle.
“I mean, our friends are here, people know me from the corporate community, they know me from my time at the Chamber of Commerce, certainly from my time as Fulton Commission chair and secretary of state,” she said.
“When you live in a community and you’re involved in your community, people get to know you and that is particularly true as a chamber CEO and as a local official like county commission chair,” she said. Handel touted herself as a “mature and connected person in the community who has real experience in public office and the private sector and, candidly, in life.”
As for a favorite sandwich at Wright’s Gourmet Sandwich Shop, that was easy.
“The Cuban is a pretty good sandwich here,” Handel said. “They have the bread right. The secret to a Cuban sandwich is to make sure the bread is correct.”