Former Georgia Rep. Tom Price will appear in his first public campaign rally of Georgia’s 6th District race to urge Republicans to get behind Karen Handel. And he’ll be joined at the Saturday event by fellow Cabinet member Sonny Perdue in what’s billed as a final get-out-the-vote push.
The event, set for Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at the Peachtree-DeKalb Airport, is the latest and perhaps last in a string of high-profile visits that have brought Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence to town to back Handel in the Tuesday runoff against Democrat Jon Ossoff.
But this one holds more local flair for voters of the suburban district. Price won the seat in 2004 and notched commanding victories every two years until Trump tapped him as his health secretary. Perdue, now the agriculture secretary, was elected in 2002 the state’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction.
With polls showing a tight race, Handel is seeking every advantage she can to consolidate Republican support and thwart Ossoff. Both parties have poured enormous resources into the Tuesday vote, which is seen as an early referendum on Trump and a dry run for the 2018 midterm elections.
As Handel brings in big names to the conservative-leaning district, Ossoff has not countered with his own bevy of high-profile supporters. Wary of giving Republicans new reason to cast him as a liberal, he has only campaigned publicly with a handful of Democratic officials.
The Saturday event was organized by John Watson, the newly-minted Georgia GOP chair, who has made boosting Handel one of his first priorities. A former aide to Perdue, Watson won this month’s vote to lead the cash-strapped party on a pledge to shore up its finances and make it more relevant.
Cabinet officials are permitted by the Hatch Act, a 1939 law, to engage in electoral politics as long as they’re not acting in an official capacity. The campaign invite mentions nothing of the word “secretary,” instead calling the two Cabinet officials “special guests.”
Handel and Price have a long friendship, and he supported her 2010 bid for governor. But Price stayed largely quiet about the race to replace him, and his wife Betty – a Roswell physician and state legislator – briefly considered running for the seat. Neither publicly backed any candidate in the first round of voting, and neither had donated to Handel in the latest fundraising reports.
Perdue has a sometimes-bumpy history with Handel, who he made his deputy chief of staff after his 2002 election. He backed his first-cousin David Perdue over Handel in the 2014 race for an open U.S. Senate seat.
The rally’s location holds symbolism for Perdue and the veterans of his 2002 campaign: The airport complex is where he housed his first campaign office in that bid for governor, the beginning of a GOP revival in Georgia that’s sure to be invoked during Saturday’s event.