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Hall party faithful dive back into Atlanta race
June runoff between Handel, Ossoff seen as referendum on national politics
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After a post-primary slowdown, Hall County politicos are preparing for another dive into Georgia’s 6th District House race — and they’re learning lessons to bring home to the 9th District next year.

Hall County Republicans and Democrats both are beating the bushes for volunteers to launch into the northern Atlanta suburbs in the next few days, their leaders told The Times.

The runoff between Democrat and top vote-getter Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel has been elevated to the national stage as a referendum on President Donald Trump and GOP control of the federal government.

Republicans breathed a sigh of relief on April 18 when Ossoff — the Democrat with the strongest support up against a sea of Republican challengers fracturing the GOP vote —  fell short of the majority vote needed to win outright and avoid the runoff, scheduled for June 20.

“We have two starkly different candidates, and it’s not a seat that we want to lose,” Hall County GOP Chairman Matt Smith said.

Conventional thinking held that Ossoff wouldn’t survive a runoff against a Republican Party united behind a single candidate. But the 30-year-old Democrat took more than 48 percent of the vote in April and maintains a funding advantage over Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state.

“It’s because Hillary Clinton won Cobb County in the general election,” 6th District GOP Chairman Darryl Wilson told The Times. “I guess (Democrats) think that’s a signal for them — a weak spot — where they can attack the Republican Party.”

Campaign cash from the national parties and high-profile endorsements are pouring into the state. Ossoff lined up the public support of celebrities like Samuel L. Jackson before the April vote while Handel has U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan slated to visit the district to show his support.

It all means the race is still on, and party leaders from the county level all the way to Washington, D.C., are doing their best to boost turnout in the district.

After a couple of weeks off after grueling campaigning leading up to the April 18 vote, Hall County groups are getting back into gear.

“I think we have a very good shot,” said Kim Copeland, chairman of the Hall County Democratic Party. “The polls since the first round show a dead heat in a heavily Republican district.”

In early May, the Ossoff campaign revealed the results of a poll it funded that showed its candidate leading Handel 48-47 among 590 likely voters.

In the past few Republican meetings in Hall County and through its email list party leaders have called for volunteers to fill phone banks or travel to Handel’s headquarters in Alpharetta, where they’ll be dispatched to canvass neighborhoods to shore up Republican support.

“It’s a tight race, but we believe that in our districts and the surrounding districts, including the 6th District, there’s a lot of conservative voice there to be heard,” Smith said. “We think Handel is a really good option — a good choice.”

Democrats are doing much the same, planning three-to-four trips each week beginning next week to Chamblee, Sandy Springs, Roswell and Marietta, where Ossoff has campaign offices.

“We normally meet up with a field director,” said Will Stump, president of the Hall County Young Democrats and the point man for organizing volunteers. “We go out in groups and we canvass — knock on doors of prospective voters and try and get them to talk about the different ideas that Jon Ossoff has and try to convince them to get out and vote.”

Democrats have a stronger presence in Atlanta and its suburbs than in Gainesville and Hall County. That’s one of the reasons Copeland said he’s encouraged by the response of local Democrats to the leadership’s calls to help Ossoff.

“It shows the enthusiasm about what’s going on right now,” Copeland said. “In 2018, every seat is going to matter. We have a good shot of flipping the House in 2018, and it’s going to be done in districts like that — suburban, Southern districts that are, frankly, scared of what Trump is doing.”

For Hall County’s political organizations, staying involved in another district’s race — now the most expensive House race in history based on total campaign spending — is about more than just helping their neighboring party and the cause. They’re learning new strategies from participating in a high-stakes race that will come home to the 9th District next year.

“What the 6th District has is an app that can be given out person to person to actually make phone calls without having to sit in a phone bank, so we’re going to try to help them spread that,” Smith said. “We’re going to open up our doors once or twice where we can teach people, help people get logged on to that.”

Meanwhile, Copeland said the Ossoff campaign is a “blueprint for Hall County.”

“We can take what they’re doing and apply it to Hall County — the level of commitment and canvassing and phone banking and getting the word out,” he said.

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