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Campaigning Overwhelms Georgians In Most Expensive House Race Ever


Money and attention are flooding next week's special congressional election in Georgia. The race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel is now the most expensive House race in U.S. history. Democrats are trying to flip a suburban Atlanta seat long held by Republicans. As Elly Yu of member station WABE reports, the race is extremely close, and yet, voters are united on one issue.

DARLA ESCHENBACH: Ready for it to be done.

KEVIN GAGNON: Excited for it to be over (laughter).

HARRY MARSHALL: It's crazy. Just, you know, everyone knows there's an election. Chill out.

JUDY GURIN: I am just over it.

ELLY YU, BYLINE: Voters Darla Eschenbach, Kevin Gagnon, Harry Marshall and Judy Gurin have heard about the race constantly for the last two months since the primary election in April. Ossoff and Handel face a tight runoff on Tuesday. For 73-year-old Gurin, she says the campaigning has been constant, from the phone calls to the canvassers at her house.

GURIN: (Laughter) I was in my pajamas in the garage, and somebody came to - for to vote for somebody. We're bombarded.

YU: And then there's her mail.

GURIN: I mean, I just go through my mail and say trash, trash, trash, trash. How many thousands, millions of dollars are spent on this stuff? Give it to somebody who needs it.

YU: At least $50 million have poured into the race to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. An Atlanta TV station has even added an extra newscast, creating more space for all of the television ads. Atlanta resident Hubert Kang describes the heavy campaigning as a dawn-to-dusk assault.

HUBERT KANG: (Laughter) I mean, there's no escape. Like, it's almost like, what's next? Do I go to bed and someone's going to pop out from underneath my bed with, like, a lawn sign (laughter)? Hey, just in case you forgot (laughter), there's a race going on.

YU: Kang's been long decided and voted early but says the constant soliciting is a turnoff. Kerwin Swint, who teaches political science at Kennesaw State University, says even though there's only a small percentage of truly undecided voters left in the district, the campaigns aren't leaving any stones unturned.

KERWIN SWINT: As far as winning a campaign, you will pull out all the stops. And you'll spend every penny you have just like in a war, an all-out assault. I mean, you're not going to take any chances.

YU: But he says runoffs in Georgia didn't always last this long. A federal judge, in 2013, extended the schedule to allow enough time for military and overseas absentee ballots.

SWINT: So that's really extended the length of time where you have a runoff. And it's fairly new, but it really lengthens the process and, I think, adds to that voter fatigue we're all feeling.

YU: In some places in the district, voter fatigue has turned into voter crankiness. In one of the counties, election officials posted extra security at early voting sites after reports of some voters getting angry at poll workers. Fulton County's elections director, Richard Barron, says the level of intensity has been unusual for a House race.

RICHARD BARRON: You kind of expect it in contentious presidential elections, you know. Tempers will get high at times. But I think the unique thing about this election is that there's one race. And I think the proportion is much higher than in a normal election.

YU: While the race will be over on Tuesday, the winner will have to start campaigning again soon to defend the seat next year. For NPR News, I'm Elly Yu in Atlanta.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIKTOR KRAUSS' "PLAYGROUND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elly Yu is a reporter at WABE, where she first got her start in public radio as angraduate student intern in 2013. Since then, she’s reported for WNYC, NPR’s Latino USA, and the New York Daily News among others.

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