Voting is underway for the much anticipated 6th Congressional District runoff between Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff.
Either Handel will claim a seat that's been in her party's hands since 1979 or Ossoff will manage an upset that will rattle Washington ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
Voters in parts of Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton Counties will decide who will win. Polls will be open until 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Their matchup in Georgia's 6th Congressional District has become a proxy for the national political atmosphere and a test of GOP strength early in Donald Trump's presidency.
Ossoff led an April primary but fell just short of an outright victory, sending an already costly race into a two-month runoff campaign.
The race between Handel and Ossoff is seen as a significant political test for the new Trump Administration and spending could top $50 million, making it the most expensive House race in U.S. history. The district traditionally goes Republican, but most consider the race too close to call as voters head to the polls on Tuesday.
Ossoff, a 30-year-old former congressional staffer and documentary filmmaker, is seeking support from moderate voters with ads focused on the economy and national spending, while Handel, 55, is focusing on her experience as Georgia secretary of state and the leader of the state's largest county commission.
Both candidates tried to avoid talk on Monday about the contest's national implications for Democrats and Republicans in the Trump era, but their supporters aren't treading as carefully.
Bill Johns, a Handel supporter from East Cobb, said he considers a vote for the GOP candidate a show of support for President Donald Trump. After shaking Handel's hand at a wood-paneled barbecue restaurant on Monday, Johns, 71, said he's amazed at the level of attention on the race.
"It's kind of a referendum," he said over a platter of pulled pork. "I still like Trump, but he can be a bit of a loose cannon. I think getting her elected helps his position and also gives us a stronger Republican Congress."
Handel maintained some distance from Trump in the primary but has fully embraced his support and agenda since, including a joint fundraiser. She and outside groups supporting her campaign have instead tried to link Ossoff to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
"The strategy for this campaign has always been about who is best and the right fit for people of this district," Handel said on Monday. "The people of this district are not from a views and a values standpoint aligned with Nancy Pelosi."
Ossoff, who once described his bid to take the GOP-controlled district as an opportunity to "make Trump furious," has since dialed back. He repeatedly downplayed Trump's role in the race while rallying supporters at a campaign office in Chamblee on Monday but acknowledged that it's a motivating force for many supporters.
"There are many in this community, myself among them, who have deep concerns about the direction of things in Washington, about the integrity and competence of this administration," he said. "I think that those concerns have only grown over time. And with a commitment to working across the aisle to get things done, to holding people in Washington accountable regardless of their political party, some fresh leaders can hopefully break through some of this nonsense."
Ossoff supporter Karen Langford said she had never volunteered for a political campaign until this year. The 70-year-old retiree said she has knocked on potential voters' doors every week since March for Ossoff's campaign, motivated by her fears about Trump's election and his approach to health care, immigration, and education.
"We let that happen," she said. "I needed to do something to change it. I used to live in D.C. and I know what it's like to have zero representation in Congress. I don't want my district to have negative representation."
The homestretch scramble was marked by a last-minute ad from a little-known political action committee trying to tie Ossoff's campaign to the "violent left" and the recent shooting of Republican House Whip Steve Scalise by a man who identified as a liberal.
Handel told reporters Monday that she hadn't seen the ad. After a reporter described it, Handel called it "disgusting."
"And, yeah, it should come down," she said. "Absolutely."
Principled PAC, the organization that produced the ad, had not disclosed its donors before this weekend when the group unveiled the spot.
Republican leaders in Washington have urged members and campaigns not to politicize the shooting. Ossoff criticized the ad for politicizing "a tragedy that has united the country."
"We all need to be focused on bringing more civility and unity to our political conversation, even though we have intense differences of opinion," he said.