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Voters give verdict on expensive slugfest in Georgia’s 6th U.S. House District runoff

Democrat Jon Ossoff hoping to wrest away traditionally GOP seat in suburban Atlanta

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ROSWELL, Georgia (CFP) — The most expensive U.S. House race in American history is drawing to a close, with Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff making last-minute pitches in a special election runoff to fill Georgia’s vacant 6th District seat.

Polls in the June 20 runoff open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. EDT, with the results expected to draw outsized national attention.

A victory by Ossoff in a district the GOP has held for decades will be seen as a harbinger of potential doom for House Republicans in 2018. But a win by Handel would make Republicans three-for-three in winning House special elections this year, possibly tempering the speculation about how much President Trump’s historic unpopularity ratings are really eroding the party’s electoral health.

No matter the outcome, the competitiveness of the race wasn’t what Trump had in mind when he appointed Tom Price to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, leaving an open seat that Republicans expected to defend easily.

Jon Ossoff, D, Georgia 6th District candidate

Fueled by liberal anger at Trump’s election, Ossoff — a 30-year-old filmmaker and former congressional aide seeking office for the first time — raised a staggering $23.6 million by the end of May, according to a report filed with the Federal Elections Commission. That figure doesn’t include any additional money raised during the first three weeks of June, as his runoff with Handel moved toward its climax.

Handel, a former Fulton County Commission chair and secretary of state, raised just $4.5 million by the end of May, although outside GOP-aligned groups have spent additional money on her behalf.

When all of the candidate and outside spending is tallied, the total is expected to approach $50 million, shattering all previous records for U.S. House races. To put that spending in perspective, a $50 million race would come to roughly $71 each for every man, woman and child in the district — and would be the equivalent of a $700 million statewide race in Georgia.

The 6th District arcs across Atlanta’s northern suburbs, taking in parts of Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties. Since its present configuration was drawn after the 1990 census, the seat has been held by Newt Gingrich, who went on to become speaker of the House; Johnny Isakson, who went on to the U.S. Senate; and Price, now in Trump’s Cabinet.

While Price won the district by 76,000 votes in November, Democrats smelled blood after Trump only managed to carry it by a scant 1.5 percent, on his way to becoming the first Republican to lose Cobb County since 1976. Trump also lost the March 2016 Republican primary in the district to U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

Ossoff had initially begun his campaign with the slogan “Make Trump Furious.” But after coming in first in the April 19 primary, he eschewed nationalizing the campaign and sought to focus on district-specific issues.

Karen Handel, R. Georgia 6th District candidate

For Handel, 55, the second-place finish in the primary was a welcome political comeback after back-to-back losses to Governor Nathan Deal in a GOP runoff in 2010 and a Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in 2014. She served as secretary of state from 2007 to 2011 and as chair of the Fulton County Commission from 2003 to 2006.

Trump has not campaigned in person for Handel, although he did tape an anti-Ossoff robocall before the primary. But Vice President Mike Pence and Price both came down from Washington to make appearances on her behalf.

Florida U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen bowing out after three decades in Congress

Her departure opens up a prime opportunity for Democrats to pick up a GOP-held seat

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

MIAMI (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the dean of Florida’s House delegation, will not seek re-election in 2018 to her 27th District seat in Miami-Dade County, drawing down the curtain on three decades of service that have made her an icon in the state’s politically powerful Cuban-American community.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

The decision means Republicans will now have to defend a seat from a district which Donald Trump lost by 20 points in 2016 but which had continued to return Ros-Lehtinen to office term after term.

“It’s a great job. But there comes a time when you say, you know, even though this is a wonderful life, and even though I’m doing what I love to do, there’s so many other wonderful things,” she said at a May 1 news conference announcing her retirement.

Ros-Lehtinen, a moderate Republican who has found herself at odds with Trump and other members of her own party, also insisted her departure is unrelated to the current political climate in Washington.

“I know it would be a great narrative to say people aren’t civil with each other and that there’s just a lot of infighting,” she said. “But I’ve been there so many years, I don’t recall a time when there hasn’t been infighting.”

“I’m not frustrated by that.”

Ros-Lehtinen, 64, who was born in Cuba and moved to Miami with her parents at the age of 7, won a House seat in a 1989 special election to fill the vacancy created by the death of  Claude Pepper, who himself was a political icon in Miami. She became the first Cuban-American ever elected to Congress and the first Republican woman elected to Congress from Florida.

She has faced little opposition since that first election. However, as the Cuban-American community in Miami has become less monolithically Republican in the last 20 years and district lines have been been altered, the GOP has held on to the district largely because of Ros-Lehtinen’s popularity.

Still, in 2016, she won by just 10 points, as Hillary Clinton was pasting Trump in her district. Democrats were expected to try to contest the seat in 2018, although Ros-Lehtinen expressed confidence that she would have won if she had she run again.

Ros-Lehtinen has left signficant daylight between herself and Trump, refusing to endorse him and opposing both his plans to repeal and replace Obamacare and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. As the mother of a transgender son, she has also been a champion for LGBT equality in Congress.

The 27th is one of just six Southern House seats held by Republicans that Clinton carried, and her margin there was the largest win in any GOP-held district in the country. Ros-Lehtinen’s departure means Democrats will have an opportunity to pick up the seat.

The race to replace Ros-Lehtinen will be a wide open affair, likely drawing a number of Cuban-American politicians from both parties into the mix. Among the Republicans being mentioned is  Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera, who has run statewide and is closely allied with the state’s two top Republicans, Governor Rick Scott, and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio.

Several state legislators are also eyeing the race, which may mean that the field won’t begin to fill out until the legislature adjourns later in May.

Decision day for voters in Georgia’s 6th U.S. House district

Democrat Jon Ossoff hoping to pull off an upset and avoid runoff in GOP-held district

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Voters in Georgia’s 6th U.S. House District will give their verdict on the first three months of Donald Trump’s presidency Tuesday, in a special election where energized Democrats are hoping to pull of a political miracle and a gaggle of Republicans are battling to stave off political disaster by forcing a runoff.

Jon Ossoff, D, Ga. 6th District candidate

Polls show Democrat Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old filmmaker and former congressional aide, with a sizable lead over the rest of the 18-person field in the all-party contest to fill the seat vacated in February when Tom Price became secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the Trump cabinet.

However, if Ossoff doesn’t win an outright majority in the first round, he will face a June runoff against unified Republican opposition, in a district the GOP has held for decades and which Price won by 76,000 votes in November.

Republicans are in a four-way battle for the second slot between Karen Handel, a former secretary of state and chair of the Fulton County Commission; Bob Gray, a technology executive and former city councilman in Johns Creek, one of the cities in the district; and two former state senators, Dan Moody of Johns Creek and Judson Hill of Marietta.

Polls close at 7 p.m. EDT.

Despite the 6th District’s Republican tilt, Democrats smelled blood after Trump carried by district by a mere 1.5 percent in November. Ossoff, whose campaign has been dubbed “Make Trump Furious,” has benefited from an avalanche of more than $8.3 million in campaign cash, most of it raised from Trump critics outside the district.

The district is anchored in Atlanta’s northern suburbs, taking in parts of Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb Counties. The seat has been held previously by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson.

Despite public insistence by Republican leaders that the Ossoff campaign is an exercise in futility, the National Republican Congressional Committee ran ads into the district, telling voters that Nancy Pelosi and her fellow liberals are are trying to use this race to stop the Republican agenda. The Republican National Committee has also moved in staffers in preparation for a runoff.

Karen Handel, Ga. 6th District candidate

Late polling in the race points to a runoff between Ossoff and Handel, who has high name recognition from her unsuccessful races for governor in 2010 and U.S. Senate in 2014, although at least one poll shows Gray within striking distance.

Trump has been the overriding issue in the contest. While Ossoff has run as the Trump critic, a number of Republicans have been jockeying to be the Trump candidate. including Gray and Bruce LeVell, who was head of Trump’s diversity coalition.

LeVell, who campaigned in the district with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, has taken to calling Gray “Lyin’ Bob” for overstating his ties to Trump. But Gray is insisting he is the only one of the “major” Republican candidates who had a role in the Trump campaign.

However, the Trump label might not be as useful in the 6th District as it would be in other parts of Georgia. In the Republican presidential primary last march, Trump lost to U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida in the district, on his way to losing all three of the counties that make up parts of the district.

The Republican race has taken on an establishment-versus-outsider tone.

Handel, a political fixture in North Fulton for the past 15 years, has received a slew of endorsements from city and county officials throughout the district, as well as the support of former U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss. Gray, who has positioned himself as a business-oriented political outsider aligned with Trump, is receiving support from the conservative Club for Growth.

Moody was endorsed by U.S .Senator David Perdue; Hill, by Gingrich and Rubio, whom Hill endorsed in last year’s presidential primary.

Race for GOP-held Georgia U.S. House seat closing with Democrat in lead

But polls shows Jon Ossoff may not avoid a runoff that could be fatal in metro Atlanta’s 6th District

ATLANTA (CFP) — On paper, the outcome of the April 18 special election to fill Georgia’s 6th District U.S. House district should be an foregone conclusion.

This seat in Atlanta’s upscale, leafy northern suburbs has been previously held by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson. Last November, Tom Price, now secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, won it by more than 76,000 votes against a Democrat who didn’t even bother to campaign.

But after seeing the presidential results in the 6th District last November, Democrats smelled blood.

Donald Trump carried the district by a mere 1.5 percentage points, on his way to losing Cobb County, a GOP bastion that hadn’t gone Democratic since 1976. The eastern half of Cobb is in the 6th District, along with the northern portions of Fulton and DeKalb counties, which Hillary Clinton also carried.

When Trump put Price in his Cabinet, Democrats saw an opportunity in the all-party special election to fill this seat, if they could find a candidate who could make the race competitive.

Jon Ossoff, Ga. 6th District candidate

Enter Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old filmmaker and former congressional aide who had never before run for anything. He galvanized Trump-disaffected Democrats with the slogan “Make Trump Furious.” He raised a staggering $8.3 million in one just one quarter, including $1.25 in crowdfunding from the liberal website Daily Kos — a fundraising haul larger than all of his 11 Republican competitors combined.

Not only has Ossoff proven himself to be competitive, he has shot to a large lead in the polls, a full 20 points ahead of his nearest competitor. But he still may need the political equivalent of a Hail Mary to actually get to Congress.

For to win the seat outright, Ossoff has to clear 50 percent in the April 18 vote against a field with 17 competitors. If he doesn’t pull that off, he’ll face a June 20 runoff against the second-place finisher, who will almost certainly be a Republican.

Recent polls have put Ossoff as high as 43 percent, well short of what he would need to win outright. However, Democrats are hoping that their enthusiasm for Ossoff, along with the low voter turnout typical of special elections, can propel their man over the top.

The results of April 11 special election for a Republican-held congressional seat in Kansas have buoyed those hopes. The Republican in that race won, but there was a 20-point swing toward the Democrat from what Trump posted in November. Even a fraction of that swing could put Ossoff in Congress.

A recent poll by Fox 5 in Atlanta also contained good news for Democrats. In head-to-head match-ups with the four leading Republicans in the race, Ossoff was in a statistical dead heat with all of them, raising hopes he might be able to win even if forced into a runoff.

But Republicans aren’t buying that argument. Given the district’s historical tendencies, they are confident their candidate will prevail in a one-on-one race with Ossoff. One of the Republicans competing for second place, Bob Gray, has gone so far as to dismiss Democratic hopes of poaching the seat as a “fantasy.”

Yet, with Ossoff’s campaign in high gear and Republicans still tussling with each other for second place, the National Republican Congressional Committee began running ads into the district, telling voters that Nancy Pelosi and her fellow liberals are are trying to use this race to stop the Republican agenda. The Republican National Committee has also moved staffers into the district.

Another wild card in Ossoff’s ultimate success will be which Republican he faces in the runoff, who will emerge after an increasingly fractious battle for second place.

Gray

Handel

Polls show the chase for the second spot in the runoff appears to be between Karen Handel, a former secretary of state and chair of the Fulton County Commission, and Gray, a technology executive and former city councilman in Johns Creek, one of the cities in the district.

Handel, a political fixture in North Fulton for the past 15 years, has high name recognition after failed runs for governor in 2010 and U.S. Senate in 2014. She has received a slew of endorsements from city and county officials throughout the district, as well as the support of former U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss.

Gray has positioned himself as a business-oriented political outsider aligned with Trump, and he is also receiving support from the conservative Club for Growth.

Two other Republicans with an outside shot at the runoff slot are Dan Moody, a former state senator from Johns Creek, who has the backing of U.S .Senator David Perdue, and Judson Hill, a former state senator from East Cobb who has been endorsed by Gingrich and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who carried Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties over trump in Georgia’s 2016 Republican presidential primary.

Both Gray and Moody have turned their fire on Handel, with ads that criticize her as an opportunistic office seeker and a flip-flopper in the mode of John Kerry. Handel has responded with an ad touting her experience as county commission chair and secretary of state and criticizing her opponents for being more talk than action.

Trump nominates Florida law school dean Alex Acosta as labor secretary

Acosta selected after Trump’s first nominee for labor post, Andrew Puzder, pulled out

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

florida mugWASHINGTON (CFP) — Alex Acosta, the dean of Florida International University’s law school and a former federal prosecutor in Miami, has been named by President Donald Trump to be the nation’s next labor secretary.

FIU Dean Alex Acosta

FIU Law Dean Alex Acosta

The selection of Acosta to head the U.S. Department of Labor came a day after Trump’s first pick for the post, fast food magnate Andrew Puzder, withdrew from consideration after it became clear that he lacked enough votes for Senate confirmation.

Trump made the announcement February 16 during a media appearance at the White House, which Acosta did not attend.

“I think he’ll be a tremendous secretary of labor,” Trump said, after briefly ticking off items from Acosta’s resume, including the fact that he had already been confirmed by the U.S. Senate to three executive department posts.

If confirmed, Acosta will be the first, and so far only, Latino in the Trump cabinet.

Acosta, 48, a Cuban-American, has been dean at FIU’s law school since 2009. From 2005 to 2009, he served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, which comprises nine counties in the southeastern part of the state.

From 2003 to 2005, Acosta headed up the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in Washington, the first Latino to serve in that position. From 2002 to 2003, he was a member of the National Labor Relations Board.

Acosta was also a law clerk to now-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito from 1994 to 1995, when Alito was serving on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

His two positions in the Justice Department and his stint at the NLRB all required Senate confirmation. One of the senators who will decide on Acosta’s nomination for the labor post, Florida’s Marco Rubio said he was “a phenomenal choice” and predicted he would be approved.

“I look forward to his confirmation hearing, where I’m confident he will impress my colleagues and secure the support necessary to be the next secretary of labor,” Rubio said in a statement.

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