U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Georgians will help “determine the direction of the country” next month when voters head to the polls to choose between Republican stalwart Karen Handel or Democratic newcomer Jon Ossoff.

Paul Ryan and Karen Handel. (Photo Dyana Bagby)

Ryan stumped May 15 at a short pep rally for Handel at the Atlanta Mariott Perimeter Center in Dunwoody and said Washington needed Handel to win so she could help the Republican majority “repeal and replace Obamacare” as well as pass major tax reform.

“We need someone who is tested and true,” Ryan told an enthusiastic crowd of some 300 people. “These are very, very hard shoes to fill. We need you to send us Karen Handel.

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“The stakes are as high as they ever could be,” Ryan said. “You have a big responsibility.”

The May 15 pep rally speeches continued the hard line Republicans are taking in the race — that Ossoff is “hand picked” by Nancy Pelosi and whose campaign is funded by California liberals. Pelosi is a U.S. Representative representing San Francisco and is the Minority Leader for the U.S. House of Representatives.

“We are not going to let Nancy Pelosi and her hand-picked candidate steal this seat from Republicans,” Handel said.

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Handel poked at Ossoff’s “flimsy, inflated resume” and contrasted that with her experience as former CEO of the North Fulton Chamber of Commerce, chair of the Fulton County Commissioners and Georgia secretary of state.

“Talk is cheap, and I’m not about talk,” she said.

Prior to Handel and Ryan’s appearance, Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul noted the race between Handel and Ossoff is the most expensive Congressional race in history.

“We’ve got a dog fight on our hands,” Paul said. “People are going to read something into this election that doesn’t exist.”

Also speaking was Georgia Speaker David Ralston, who joked that Ryan came to Georgia not only to help elect Handel but to also get some tips on how to be speaker.

“I’m happy to help,” Ralston said to laughter.

Ralston also attacked Pelosi and California and asked voters to help elect Handel so he didn’t have to wake up June 21 to hear the seat is held by “Pelosi-Off.”

“Karen Handel has a positive vision for this district … and not [a vision] for California or Massachusetts,” Ralston said.

Outside the hotel, more than 20 protesters lined up holding signs protesting Handel and also Ryan and his health care bill.

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Many chanted, “We want a debate.” Handel has yet to publicly commit to a debate with Ossoff and at a May 7 Dunwoody Homeowners Association meeting, President Robert Wittenstein said Handel declined to participate in that group’s candidate forum after apparently learning the debate would be open to the public. Handel’s campaign said she had a scheduling conflict and would agree to debates.

Heather Hancock of Alpharetta was one of the protesters and said Handel was “godless and soulless.” She said she has participated in every major march since the Women’s March on Washington on the day Trump was inaugurated.

Ray Dafrico leads chants on the side walk of Perimeter Center Parkway to protest the Karen Handel rally featuring Paul Ryan. (Photo Phil Mosier)

Hancock also said Ryan’s appearance in Georgia shows how “terrified” the Republicans are of losing the seat.

Sandra Sidhom of Alpharetta attended the rally and said she hand-delivered to Ryan and Handel a change.org petition with more than 1,000 signatures calling for Handel to debate Ossoff.

“We really support the idea for public debates,” Sidhom said.

A poll released May 14 shows Ossoff and Handel in a tight race, with Ossoff leading Handel 47 to 45 percent. The election has garnered national attention as political pundits on both sides of the aisle see the race as a referendum on Donald Trump’s presidency.

Several local politicians were on hand for the Handel rally, including Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal and Councilmembers Terry Nall, Doug Thompson and Pam Tallmadge; Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul and Councilmembers Gabriel Sterling, Chris Burnett and Ken Dishman; Brookhaven Councilmember Bates Mattison; state Rep. Tom Taylor of Dunwoody; state Rep. Josh McKoon of Columbus; Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, who lives in Dunwoody; state Rep. Meagan Hanson of Brookhaven; and U.S. Rep. Jody Hice.

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.