Georgia special election: What to know about Karen Handel

Businesswoman Karen Handel was the first elected Republican to serve as Georgia’s secretary of state, and now she’s hoping to keep the state’s 6th congressional district red.

Handel is battling Democrat Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s special House election on Tuesday to take over the seat vacated when Tom Price was appointed Health and Human Services Secretary.

Keeping the 6th

Handel, 55, is fighting a close race against Ossoff in order to keep Georgia’s 6th district in the hands of the GOP. The seat has been held by Republicans since Newt Gingrich won it in 1978 — but multiple polls have shown Ossoff with a narrow lead. 

Handel is running as an anti-abortion candidate who wants to repeal and replace ObamaCare and strengthen the country’s borders, according to her campaign website.

The special election is seen in part as a testament to President Donald Trump’s influence. Trump has attacked Handel’s opponent often on Twitter. He also attended a fundraiser on Handel’s behalf in April.

“You’d better win,” Trump reportedly told her at a closed-door event in April. 

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But Trump is notably missing from Handel’s campaign website’s list of endorsements, which includes a bevy of Republican lawmakers.

“Vote now for Karen H,” Trump tweeted on Monday

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., also campaigned with Handel in May.  

Handel beat out the other 10 GOP hopefuls who vied for the party’s nomination in the special election — and beat them in fundraising, as well, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last month that the congressional race between Handel and Ossoff is already the most expensive U.S. House race in the nation’s history, with Democrats outspending Republicans.

Political career

Aside from her three-year tenure as Georgia’s secretary of state, Handel launched unsuccessful campaigns for U.S. Senate in 2014 and Georgia’s governor in 2010.

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She chaired the Fulton County Board of Commissioners for three years beginning in 2003. As the chair, Handel turned the board’s $100 million deficit into a balanced budget, her campaign website boasts.

Komen controversy

Handel also briefly served in a leadership role at the breast cancer research charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure, beginning in January 2011.

Handel was vice president for public policy for the organization when it decided to strip its funding for Planned Parenthood, a move that Handel told the Washington Post in 2012 that she supported.

But just a few days after announcing its split from Planned Parenthood in February 2012, Komen announced it would reverse its decision as the organization was “distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood.”

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Handel resigned amid the controversy and reportedly turned down a severance package.

HuffPost reported at the time that Handel was a driving force behind the nonprofit’s decision to strip funding from Planned Parenthood. Handel has denied being the “sole authority” of the decision.

Handel’s campaign website specifically notes that she has been “a strong proponent of women’s health for her entire adult life.”

“The Susan G. Komen Board, not Karen Handel, made the decision to implement new grant criteria that impacted Planned Parenthood,” it states.

Personal life

Handel has lived in Georgia’s 6th district with her husband, Steve, for almost 25 years, according to her campaign website. She grew up around Washington, D.C., in a Maryland suburb.

She attended both Prince George’s Community College and the University College at the University of Maryland.

She is a fan of the Indianapolis Colts, the New York Times reported.

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