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Analysis: South is the GOP’s ace in the hole in stopping Democratic takeover of U.S. House

Democrats will need to flip 11 Southern seats or make make up the difference elsewhere

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — With President Trump’s approval ratings at historically low levels, Democrats have high hopes of taking back the U.S. House in 2018. But those hopes are tempered by a giant geographic obstacle standing in their way — namely, the South.

To reclaim the House, Democrats need to flip 24 seats, shifting about 10 percent of the seats that Republicans now hold. And nearly half of the GOP caucus — 114 seats — is from the South, where Republican House members outnumber Democrats by 3-to-1.

So a 10 percent shift in the South would require winning 11 seats, in a region where Democrats won just two seats in 2016 (both in Florida and neither yet safe.) If Democrats fall short of that total, they will need to shift an even higher percentage of seats throughout the rest of the country — as much as 19 percent if they come up empty in the South.

And as Democrats plot and plan to add to their meager total of 40 Southern House seats, two recent special elections for open seats offer decidedly mixed omens on their chances for overturning the GOP’s hegemony.

In South Carolina’s 5th District, the swing away from Trump’s 2016 numbers in the special election was nearly 20 percent — not enough for Democrat Archie Parnell to win but a much bigger scare than Republicans had expected. Indeed, if that 20-point swing could be replicated across the South in 2018, 42 GOP-held seats could potentially be in play, more than Democrats would need to return Nancy Pelosi to the speaker’s chair.

Handel

But the results in the other race, in Georgia’s 6th District, pour substantial caution on such irrational exuberance. Republican Karen Handel kept the seat by running slightly ahead of Trump, in a race where Democrats spent a whopping $30 million and still came up short.

And this district in the northern Atlanta suburbs is exactly the kind of place where Democrats will need to compete to claw away at Republican dominance in the South next year — increasingly diverse, maturing suburbs whose upscale, educated voters, though conservative by inclination, are somewhat wary of Trump’s stewardship of the GOP brand.

If Democrats couldn’t win this race for an open seat in a low-turnout special election with a highly energized base and a president with historically low approval ratings, flipping these seats in 2018 will be a tall order indeed, particularly given Trump’s solid base of support in the South.

So where can Democrats start? Their first targets will be three majority Latino districts in metro Miami, all of which have large numbers of Cuban-American voters. Trump lost two of these districts and only narrowly won the third.

Veteran GOP U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring, and Republicans will be hard pressed to keep her seat in a district Trump lost by 20 points. But in the other two districts, Democrats will have to unseat incumbents Carlos Curbelo, who has gone out of this way to distance himself from Trump, and Mario Diaz-Balart, who has been winning congressional elections with relative ease since 2002.

Democrats are also likely to target four other Southern districts where Hillary Clinton defeated Trump last year, which include three seats in Texas and one in Virginia. The GOP, however, has held three of these districts, in varying configurations, for decades.

Comstock

The Virginia seat, in the Washington D.C. suburbs, is held by Barbara Comstock, who first won it in 2014 and was narrowly re-elected in 2016. Even at this early date, she has already drawn six Democratic challengers in a district that, like the rest of Virginia, has become more hospitable to Democrats over the last decade.

In Texas, the climb for Democrats will be steeper. Clinton won the 32nd District in suburban Dallas, but that seat is held by Pete Sessions, a GOP titan who won by 52 points in 2016. She also won the 7th District in suburban Houston, where John Culberson ran well ahead of Trump to win by 12 points.

While Democrats appear eager to try to unseat both (Culberson already has seven challengers and Sessions nine), these districts have long Republican pedigrees reminiscent of Georgia’s 6th District, which was once represented by Newt Gingrich. Former President George H.W. Bush began his political career in the 7th District in 1967; former President George W. Bush’s Dallas home is in the 32nd.

Hurd

Democrats may have more luck in Texas’s 23rd District, which stretches from the suburbs of San Antonio across rural West Texas. This district is part of an ongoing legal fight over the state’s 2013 redistricting map, and a panel of federal judges is considering changes that could make it more difficult for Republican Will Hurd to hang on for a third term.

After those Clinton-won districts, the next set of seats Democrats might logically target are those where Trump’s winning margin was less than 10 points and where it would take less than a 10-point swing from the 2016 congressional results to put the seat in Democratic hands. But that list contains a scant eight seats — four in Texas, two in North Carolina and one each in Florida and Virginia. None of them are open at this point.

After that, the pickings get even slimmer — places like Arkansas’s 2nd District, where a Democrat can carry Little Rock only to get swamped by the Republican vote in the suburbs, and Florida’s 3rd District, where liberal-leaning Gainesville is subsumed in a sea of more traditional, conservative Southern voters.  To be competitive in these districts, Democrats would have to commit to putting resources into races where chances of victory would appear, at the moment, to be rather remote.

So if Democrats can’t move the playing field into these second and third tiers, they have a reasonable shot at just seven Republican-held Southern seats, five of which have been in GOP hands for decades and all but one of which is likely to have an incumbent. And any anti-Trump tide that helps them in other parts of the country will likely not crest as high in the South.

With a lot of angry voters and a lot of luck, Democrats may indeed swing enough seats in 2018 to win control of the House. But as Republicans try to stop them, their ace in the hole is their dominance across the South, which should give them plenty of reason for confidence.

Republican Karen Handel wins hotly contested U.S. House race in suburban Atlanta

Handel turns back challenge from Democrat Jon Ossoff in most expensive House race ever

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ROSWELL, Georgia (CFP) — Republican Karen Handel has won a runoff for Georgia’s 6th District U.S. House seat, dashing Democratic hopes of embarrassing President Trump by snatching away a seat that has been safely in GOP hands for decades.

U.S. Rep.-Elect Karen Handel, R-Georgia

Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state and Fulton County Commission chair, won 52.1 percent in the June 20 vote, defeating Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old filmmaker and former congressional aide making his first bid for political office, who took 47.9 percent.

She will be the first Republican woman ever to represent Georgia in Congress.

Speaking to supporters at a hotel in Dunwoody, Handel said she was “extraordinarily humbled and honored at the tremendous privilege and high responsibility that you and the people across the 6th District have given to me to represent you.”

She also said Ossoff’s supporters should “know that my commitments, they extend to you.”

“We may have some different beliefs, but we are part of one community,” she said. “My pledge is to be part of the solution to focus on governing, to put my experience to work to help solve the very serious issues we’re facing in this country.”

Handel also thanked Trump, who tweeted on her behalf throughout the race, and Vice President Mike Pence, who traveled to Georgia to campaign with her as national Republicans scrambled to avoid what would have been an embarrassing defeat.

Jon Ossoff, D, Georgia 6th District candidate

Ossoff, speaking to his supporters at a hotel in Sandy Springs hotel after the race had been called for Handel, saluted his volunteers, “more than 12,000 of you who, as darkness has crept across this planet, have provided a beacon of hope for people here in Georgia, for people across the country and for people around the world.”

“At a time when politics have been dominated by fear and hatred and scapegoating and division, this community stood up … and showed the world that in places where nobody thought it was even possible to fight, we could fight. We showed them what courage and kindness and humility are capable of,” he said.

Handel’s win, along with a win by Republican Ralph Norman in the South Carolina 5th District special election on the same night, means Republicans have successfully defended all four of the House seats that became vacant when their occupants were appointed to positions in the Trump administration. The other elections were in Kansas and Montana.

However, in three of those four races, the Republican winners polled substantially worse than did Trump in November. The only exception was Handel, who ran 4 points ahead of Trump.

Ossoff had come in first in the April primary but fell short of the majority needed to win outright. Handel, who edged out a flock of Republican candidates to make the runoff, was able to consolidate GOP support and win the runoff, despite being outspent by 4-to-1 by Ossoff, who tapped anti-Trump sentiment to raise more than $23 million.

In all, total spending by candidates and outside groups in the 6th District race topped $50 million, making it the most expensive House race in U.S. history. But despite all that spending, Ossoff’s vote share was less than a point higher than what Hillary Clinton pulled down in the district in November.

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 Tom Price, who gave it up when Trump picked him to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

While Price had won the seat easily in 2016, Trump only carried 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.

For Handel, 55, winning the 6th District seat revives her once-promising political career, which was battered by 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.

In her victory speech, Handel thanked House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana for his advice during her campaign, and she asked her supporters to “lift up” Scalise and three others wounded June 14 while practicing for a charity baseball game by a shooter with apparent political motives.

“We need to also lift up this nation so that we can find a more civil way to deal with our disagreements because in these United States of America, no one should ever feel their life threatened over their political beliefs,” she said.

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.

Democrat Jon Ossoff falls short of majority in Georgia U.S. House special election

Ossoff will now face an uphill climb in runoff against Republican Karen Handel

By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Democrat Jon Ossoff’s insurgent campaign to flip Georgia’s 6th District U.S. House seat in Atlanta’s northern suburbs fell short of securing a majority in an April 18 special election, setting up a high-stakes showdown with Republican Karen Handel in a June 20 runoff.

Karen Handel

Jon Ossoff

With all of the precincts in the district reporting, Ossoff had 48.1 percent of the vote, followed by Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, at 19.8 percent. Bob Gray, a technology executive who touted his work for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, came in third with 10.8 percent.

Ossoff’s result was a surprisingly strong showing by a Democrat in what had been seen as a safe Republican seat. But his failure to clear an outright majority means he will now have to beat Handel in a head-to-head race.

Despite not clearing that hurdle, Ossoff told his supporters that the result was “a victory for the ages” and vowed to continue the fight.

“We have defied the odds. We have shattered expectations. We are changing the world, and your voices are going to ring out across this state and across this country,” said Ossoff,  a 30-year-old filmmaker and former congressional aide with no previous political experience.

“There is no amount of dark money, Super PAC, negative advertising that can overcome real grassroots energy like this. So bring it on.”

Handel, who managed to fight off attacks from her fellow Republicans to come in second, told her supporters that “nine weeks from today, we have an opportunity and a real responsibility to elect a member of Congress who shares our values.”

Telegraphing how her campaign will frame the campaign ahead, Handel called herself “a proven, independent and conservative leader who has delivered for the people of this district.”

For Handel, 55, the second-place finish 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 was an overarching presence in the 6th District race. Ossoff used anti-Trump sentiment to whip up Democratic enthusiasm and raise a staggering $8.3 million, using the slogan “Make Trump Furious.”

That prompted the president to make a robocall to voters in the district, saying “Ossoff will raise your taxes, destroy your health care and flood our country with illegal immigrants.” However, Trump did not endorse anyone, and the four unabashedly pro-Trump candidates in the race fared poorly, taking only about 20 percent of the vote.

The June 20 runoff is likely to be a bruising affair with national implications, as Republicans try to hold on to what had been seen as a safe seat and Democrats try to embarrass Trump by snatching it away.

The first round results show the uphill climb Ossoff faces: Together, 11 Republican candidates captured 98,000 votes, besting the 93,900 votes captured by Ossoff and four other Democrats. And while Ossoff carried a majority in the part of the district that lies in DeKalb County, he failed to clear a majority in the larger slices in Cobb and Fulton counties.

The 6th District seat became vacant in February, when Tom Price left to become secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the Trump cabinet. The all-party special election drew a crowded field of 18 candidates.

Price had won the district by 76,000 votes in November, but Democrats smelled blood after Trump only managed to carry it by a scant 1.5 percent. Trump also lost the March 2016 Republican primary in the district to U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

The 6th District has been previously represented by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson. It had been considered so unassailable that in 2016, the Democratic nomination for the seat went to a man who didn’t even bother to campaign.

Despite public insistence by Republican leaders that an Ossoff victory was nothing more than a liberal fantasy, 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 resources into the district in anticipation of the runoff.

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.

Georgia U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson announces he has Parkinson’s disease

Despite the diagnosis, the Republican lawmaker plans to run again in 2016

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

georgia mugATLANTA (CFP) — U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson has publicly disclosed that he is suffering from Parkinson’s disease, but the Georgia Republican says he still plans to run for a third term in 2016.

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson

“My diagnosis has not impacted my ability to represent the state of Georgia in the U.S. Senate,” Isakson said in a June 10 statement. “I am busier and have more responsibility today than ever before in my political career, and I couldn’t be happier about that.”

“I am eager to take my record of results to the voters of Georgia as I run for re-election in 2016.”

Isakson, 70, who was first elected to the Senate in 2004, said he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive and potentially debilitating neurological disorder, in 2013. He said he is still in the early stages of the disease “and my main symptoms are the stiffness in my left arm and a slowed, shuffling gait.”

Isakson’s office released a statement from his Georgia-based neurologist, Dr. Thomas Holmes, saying “I believe he is fully capable of continuing to perform his duties as a U.S. senator, and I believe he is fully capable of running for re-election and serving for another term.”

Prior to disclosure of his diagnosis, Isakson was considered a prohibitive favorite for re-election in 2016. Georgia trends strongly Republican in statewide races, and a May poll put Isakson’s approval rating at a whopping 71 percent among state GOP voters.

In his statement, Isakson said he “wrestled” with whether to disclose his illness publicly.

“In the end, I decided I should handle my personal health challenge with the same transparency that I have championed throughout my career,” he said.

Isakson came to the Senate after a long career in the Georgia legislature, where he rose to the position of House minority leader.

After failed campaigns for the Peach State’s governorship in 1990 and the U.S. Senate in 1996, he was elected to the U.S. House in 1999, replacing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich after Gingrich unexpectedly resigned. He rose to the Senate after Democrat Zell Miller decided to retire in 2004.

Isakson is chairman of two Senate committees, Ethics and Veterans Affairs.

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