The U.S. missile strike that slammed into a Syrian airfield on Thursday quickly ignited a debate in Georgia’s special election, as Republicans sought an opening to weaken Democrat Jon Ossoff’s surging candidacy.
Republican Karen Handel, a leading contender to represent the suburban Atlanta district, said late Thursday that Donald Trump showed “real leadership” with his decision to target Syria in retaliation for a chemical attack that killed more than 80 civilians. And she blasted Ossoff, a former Congressional aide who touts his national security credentials, for not immediately commenting on the strike.
“Nothing but crickets from ‘National Security Expert’ Ossoff thus far,” she said in a tweet. “What say you Jon? Do you stand with Obama or Trump?”
On Friday morning, Ossoff said in a statement he backed a “swift punitive strike on Syrian military targets” so long as intelligence officials were certain that Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against civilians amid a brutal six-year civil war.
“The more than fifty cruise missiles reportedly launched suggests a significant strike, and any further action should require Congressional approval,” said Ossoff, adding that Trump should avoid “getting drawn into an intractable ground war that cannot be resolved by U.S. military force.”
Other Republican candidates in the April 18 special election, including Bob Gray and Dan Moody, also commended Trump’s decision. But Handel’s position is a bit more complicated.
She was a candidate for an open U.S. Senate seat in 2013 when President Barack Obama considered – and then rejected – a similar strike against Syrian forces after declaring the use of chemical weapons a “red line” that shouldn’t be crossed.
During that campaign, touted her opposition to the aborted plan to strike Syrian and launched a 60-second radio spot ripping Democrat Michelle Nunn for supporting that military strike against Assad’s regime. In that ad, she said Obama “failed to make the case” for attacking Syria over its use of chemical weapons.
Handel spokesman John Porter said she staked out that position because of “Obama’s feckless Syria policy and the ridiculous notion Nunn would be an independent voice on national security issues.”
The race to represent Georgia’s 6th District, which spans from east Cobb to north DeKalb, is seen as an early test of Trump’s presidency. A reliably Republican district, Ossoff’s solid poll numbers and soaring fundraising hauls have given Democrats hope he can flip a seat long in GOP hands.
More AJC coverage of the Sixth District race: