MARIETTA, GA -- In Georgia’s sixth district congressional race, it’s about more than the two candidates on the ballot. Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff are getting a lot of national backing. But the candidates are very careful about how they use it.
Democrat John Ossoff cut his teeth politically as a staffer in the office of Democratic Congressman Hank Johnson. His name appears in advertising targeting African American voters – but otherwise generally stays in the background as Ossoff asserts what he describes as his independence.
Meantime, Handel uses Johnson's name as a blunt instrument to clobber Ossoff, describing Johnson as a tax-and-spend liberal.
FULL COVERAGE | Race to replace Tom Price
Meantime, Handel has had two substantial fundraisers with President Donald Trump, and last week with Vice President Mike Pence. Yet Handel has similarly asserted her independence from the administration, which polls poorly in the sixth district.
Ossoff's radio advertising among African American voters invokes Handel's ties with the unpopular president.
Both candidates are trying to benefit from those ties, while limiting the potential damage. It’s a tightrope walk that takes some skill. "He’s straddling, she’s straddling," said GOP strategist Brian Robinson. "I give them both credit. Both of them are doing it very well. Both of them are doing it with a lot of discipline."
In an interview Monday, Ossoff expressed an interest in working with Rep. Johnson on issues like the "mass incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders." But he added that "I want to be the right representative for the sixth district, which I think is concerned with attacking wasteful spending and setting the right priorities."
Of Ossoff, Robinson said: "He’s talking about cutting waste. He’s using a lot of Republican code words that appeal to those independent Republican leaning voters."
Handel's campaign did not respond to inquiries about her availability Monday.
The straddle may be a matter of survival in a race that could go either way June 20.