Karen Handel stakes early lead in race to replace Tom Price

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Former Secretary of State Karen Handel has carved out an early lead in the wide-open race to replace Rep. Tom Price, according to a Landmark/Rosetta Stone poll commissioned by WSB-TV.

Handel, who has not yet announced but appears likely to run, is one of about a dozen Republicans considering a bid for the seat after Price was tapped as Donald Trump’s health secretary. The only declared Republican so far is state Sen. Judson Hill, who hopes to take the 6th District back to its Cobb County roots.

Handel enjoys high name recognition after stints as the state’s top elections official and statewide campaigns for governor in 2010 and U.S. Senate in 2014, winning the district in the latter race,

But it’s early yet and the muddled field has yet to form. State Rep. Betty Price, Tom Price’s wife, seems unlikely to run if Handel commits. And former state Sen. Dan Moody, who has told rivals he would dig deep into his personal fortune to boost his name ID, gained no traction in the poll but could eventually emerge as a leading challenger. (Here’s a lengthy list of the potential contenders, but among the names not in the poll to watch are state Rep. Chuck Martin and state Rep. Jan Jones.)

The district, which covers an affluent swath of suburban north Atlanta, is considered the GOP’s to lose. Still, national Democratic groups are trying to field a competitive candidate, emboldened by Hillary Clinton’s strong performance in a district that Mitt Romney carried with 60 percent of the vote in 2012.

Locals are more pessimistic about the chances of flipping the seat in a low-turnout special election. The biggest Democratic names in the district are likely to take a pass. State Rep. Taylor Bennett, narrowly defeated last month, seems unlikely to run. And state Rep. Scott Holcomb, a potential candidate for statewide office in 2018 or 2020, said Thursday he’s out of the running. He would have been particularly intriguing as the only DeKalb candidate in the race.

“I didn’t publicly kick the tires but I have received a lot of calls,” the DeKalb Democrat said. “I appreciate the encouragement but I’m happy where I am.”

Pollster Mark Rountree told WGAU’s Tim Bryant on Friday that Democrats have a vanishingly small window: They must rally around a single candidate, hope that 15-20,000 or so votes will be enough to cement a runoff in a fractured GOP race and then buckle up.

Check out the crosstabs below:

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