Meet Karen Handel, The Georgia GOPer Taking On Jon Ossoff In June Runoff

Republican candidate for Georgia's Sixth Congressional seat Karen Handel speaks at an election night watch party in Roswell, Ga., Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Republicans are bidding to prevent a major upset in a conservative Georgia congressional district Tuesday where Democrats stoked by opposition to President Donald Trump have rallied behind a candidate who has raised a shocking amount of money for a special election. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
David Goldman/AP
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Now that Democrat Jon Ossoff on Tuesday narrowly missed winning an open U.S. House seat in Georgia outright, he will compete against Republican Karen Handel in a special June runoff election.

Handel is a former Georgia secretary of state, where she helped implement and defended the state’s restrictive voter ID law. She also bid unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination in the 2010 governor’s race and the 2014 U.S. Senate race. But having held statewide office and competed in several elections, Handel has good name recognition in the district—and she now has the advantage of consolidating the resources that previously had been split among 11 Republican candidates, of which she was the frontrunner.

After she left office as Georgia’s secretary of state and lost her bid for governor, Handel joined the Susan B. Komen Foundation, where she served as the vice president for public policy. Handel made headlines in 2012 when she resigned from the foundation over her role in a push to end funding for Planned Parenthood. She later wrote a book titled “Planned Bullyhood,” in which she described the organization as “a bunch of schoolyard thugs.”

If she were to win the seat, Handel would join a House GOP caucus that has spent much of the year trying and failing to pass legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare that satisfies both the hard-line conservatives who want to scrap it entirely and moderates who want to keep some of the law’s protections in place. Notably, Handel lobbied for Obamacare’s Essential Health Benefits while at the Komen Foundation, specifically pushing for insurers to cover certain aspects of women’s health care.

But she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this month that her advocacy for that specific provision did not amount to full support of the law.

“Obamacare was passed months before my first day at Komen. I thought it was bad legislation in 2010 and I support full repeal and replacement of the law today,” she said. “A small part of my job at Komen included advocating that mammogram screenings be covered under plans available on the exchanges —just as they are covered in other plans in Georgia. I think we can all agree that women deserve access to life saving, early detection procedures.”

It’s unclear that President Donald Trump would get a Congresswoman Handel’s full support as well. Trump loomed large over the race from the start, as Democrats saw the relatively affluent and well-educated district, which he won by just one point in November, as their ripest congressional pickup opportunity. Nevertheless, Ossoff seemed to studiously avoid talking about the President, and Handel did not seek to tie herself to Trump. She did acknowledge that she voted for the President but rarely mentioned him on the campaign trail, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Handel did not mention Trump in her victory speech, but instead used the time to contrast herself with Ossoff, who has never before held public office.

“We cannot let an untested, unproven, inexperienced ally of Nancy Pelosi steal the seat that has been held by the great leaders like Tom Price, Johnny Isakson, and Newt Gingrich,” she said.

However, Handel welcomed Trump’s help on Wednesday after he pledged to support her in the runoff.

Asked on CNN if she would welcome Trump on the campaign trail with her, Handel replied, “I would hope so.”

“It’s all hands on deck for us,” she continued. “We know what’s at stake here, and I don’t think this is about any one person. We need to rise above it.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Caitlin MacNeal is a News Writer based in Washington, D.C. Before joining TPM, Caitlin interned and wrote for the Huffington Post, the Sunlight Foundation and Slate. She is a graduate of Georgetown University.
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