President Donald Trump called Karen Handel and pledged more support for her June 20 runoff against Democrat Jon Ossoff, as the White House and Republicans seek to avert what would be an embarrassing defeat in a long-held GOP stronghold.
Handel told Fox & Friends on Wednesday the president was “beyond gracious and encouraging” in the call.
“I appreciated it so much. He specifically talked about strength under pressure,” she said, adding: “As we come into June 20 in the next two months we need every single Republican we can get – including the president – to be coalesced and united.”
When asked in a CNN interview whether the president will campaign with her, Handel replied, “I would hope so. It’s all hands on deck now. There’s a lot at stake here.”
Georgia’s 6th District, which stretches from east Cobb to north DeKalb, has been in Republican hands for decades. But tepid support for Trump in the district – he carried it by less than 2 points – has given Ossoff and his supporters hope they can flip it in June.
Handel took an arms’ length approach to Trump throughout her campaign, telling voters she supported him in November but hardly mentioning him at campaign stops. Her 10-minute speech on Tuesday night didn’t once invoke his name, and she stressed Wednesday she was running as a “strong, independent-minded conservative.”
Tuesday’s vote showed the perils of running close to Trump. Candidates who ran as pro-Trump loyalists flailed at the polls, getting little traction in an establishment-friendly district.
The nationally-watched race is widely seen as an early test of Trump’s popularity, and the president has all but cemented that notion by getting personally involved in the special election. He recorded a robo-call attacking Ossoff, a 30-year-old former congressional aide, and sent a series of tweets assailing him and urging Republicans to vote.
“I was very grateful for that push,” Handel said. “It got a lot of people to the polls as people really understood what it take.”
Read more: Georgia special election heads to runoff
And more recent AJC coverage of the vote: