Georgia race could be a referendum on the GOP’s massively unpopular health care bill

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Just one in four voters in the district approve of the plan.

Marilyn Matlock, left, answers her door to Jon Ossoff, center, a 30-year-old Democrat running for Congress in Georgia’s traditionally conservative 6th Congressional District. CREDIT: AP Photo/David Goldman

MARIETTA , GEORGIA — As Congressional Republicans work in secret in Washington to draft their Obamacare replacement, voters in the Atlanta area could send a message this week that they will not stand for an plan that will take health insurance away from millions of Americans.

All eyes are on the sixth district congressional race, which many are calling the first political test of the resistance. But Tuesday’s election may be more of a referendum on the GOP’s health care plan than on President Trump himself.

The GOP’s Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA) is the most unpopular major law in recent decades. Not a single state supports the legislation. A recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll found that more than 80 percent of likely voters in Georgia’s sixth district said health care is an “extremely important” or “very important” issue, and just one in four said they approve of the plan Republicans rammed through the House.

Karen Handel, the Republican candidate and former Secretary of State, has said she would have voted for the House bill which passed in early May, three weeks before the non-partisan CBO issued its report finding that the plan would leave more than 23 million Americans uninsured. “I reject the premise of the CBO,” Handel said in a recent debate.

On Saturday, Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price — who still has not seen the Senate’s health care bill — held a rally for Handel and encouraged voters to elect her to his former House seat.

Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff, meanwhile, has focused on the fact that the bill would take coverage away from people with pre-existing conditions. In a recent debate, he told the story of a seven-year-old boy with a heart condition whose parents would be forced to pay “tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars” a year if the GOP plan were to become law.

While Trumpcare is not a primary focus of either campaign, voters told ThinkProgress that health care is on their minds.

“Knowing that access to affordable health care is equally important to Jon as it is to me is one of the main reasons I’m voting for him,” Nancy Anderson, a Latina voter who has volunteered with the Ossoff campaign, told ThinkProgress. “This whole idea of working in secrecy, it just makes you wonder: Who are they fighting for? Who are they working for if they have to do it behind closed doors?”

Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff. Credit: Kira Lerner

Anderson said the issue is particularly important because she has a daughter with a pre-existing condition. Although her husband is a Republican, she said Handel’s support for the AHCA is one of the reasons he won’t be voting for her.

“I think a lot of people who support the plan and are supporting Ms. Handel do not have a full understanding of what they’re supporting,” she said. “Every time I ask for more depth, they really only can quote sound bites. If you’re educated and know what’s happening, there’s no way you can stand for that, because we’re all affected.”

Sacha Haworth, a spokesperson for the Ossoff campaign, told ThinkProgress that “people are asking Jon to do something about this law.”

“They’re worried that the bill making its way through Congress will throw them or their loved ones off of insurance,” she said.

Meanwhile, Republican voters in the district told ThinkProgress they see flaws in the House GOP billed, which Trump and Republican lawmakers celebrated in the White House Rose Garden after they passed it May 4.

“Obviously I’m not happy with what came out of the House, and I don’t think any Republican is,” said Leo Smith, the chair of the Cobb County GOP. “We’re still working on it.”

Smith, who is black and serves as the state director of minority engagement for the Republican Party of Georgia, said he still supports Handel, even though she said she would have voted for the bill. According to Smith, Handel knows that further deliberations are needed in the Senate to improve the legislation. “We’ve got to have a place to start from before we can get to our goals,” he said.

“Obviously I’m not happy with what came out of the House, and I don’t think any Republican is.”

And Darryl Wilson, chairman of the Republican Party in the sixth district, said he hasn’t seen the House bill but he supports the GOP plan of “better health care for everyone.” He also said he doesn’t believe the CBO report.

“The Affordable Care Act is coming down and another bill is coming in its place,” he said. “We hope it works. If it doesn’t, we’ll reform and get another bill through.”

If Ossoff were to win on Tuesday — a recent poll gives him a narrow lead — it could spell doom for the GOP health care plan. Republicans in Congress already know 2018 could be a bad year for their party if the unpopular legislation were to pass. The damage could also be bad for Republican senators, many of whom are still unclear why their plan is trying to do.

“Nobody knows, even the Republican senators themselves, don’t know what’s being worked on. Anything that is done in secrecy is bound to not be good,” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), who represents a district adjacent to the sixth, told ThinkProgress. “People understand the stakes right now and how important it is that we send a message that… we’re not going to tolerate it.”

Georgia race could be a referendum on the GOP’s massively unpopular health care bill was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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