ATLANTA – The candidates in the nation’s most expensive congressional election in history debated each other directly for the first time Tuesday night.
Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel are seeking to become Georgia’s next congressional representative in the race to replace Tom Price, now President Donald Trump’s secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Throughout the evening, Handel repeatedly labeled Ossoff as a liberal candidate supported by former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (Ossoff's former boss), whose values are out of touch with the 6th district.
For his part, Ossoff called Handel a career politician, and stressed what he called the need for fresh and new leadership on behalf of the metro Atlanta district.
One particular exchange between the two candidates gained a lot of social media attention during and after the debate. The candidates were asked if they would support a minimum wage increase.
"Yes, I do," Ossoff said. "The minimum wage should be a living wage."
Handel said the question illustrated a difference between liberals and conservatives.
"I do not support a livable wage," Handel said. "What I support is making sure we have an economy that is robust with low taxes and less regulation, so that those small businesses that would be dramatically hurt if you impose higher minimum wages on them, are able to do what they do best: grow jobs and create good paying jobs for people in the 6th district."
Afterward, both campaigns claimed victory.
"Over the course of tonight’s debate, career politician Karen Handel made several missteps," Ossoff's campaign said in a statement. "While Ossoff made the case for local economic prosperity, Secretary Handel was forced to answer tough questions about her now infamous and well-documented record as an executive at the Susan G. Komen Foundation when she put her personal views first and cut off funding for breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood."
"Tonight’s debate has made it clear, the people of the 6th District have a choice between an experienced leader with a successful track record or a candidate who is a dangerous liberal with a flimsy resume and no experience, bankrolled by liberal special interests and Democrats across the country," Handel's campaign said.
Earlier in the day, both campaigns released new broadcast and digital ads, as the June 20 special election runoff draws near.
The seat has been in GOP hands since 1978, having been held by such Republican stalwarts as Newt Gingrich and Johnny Isakson. Price was easily reelected several times, but Trump carried the district over Hillary Clinton by less than two percentage points last November, fueling Democratic hopes that they can flip the district.
There have already been two special congressional elections since President Trump took office, and both were won by Republicans. Democrats hope a victory in the 6th district will fuel momentum for the 2018 midterm elections.