In a televised debate just two weeks ahead of the high-profile special election that will fill the vacant House seat in Georgia's Sixth Congressional District, Republican Karen Handel delivered her opponent what one commentator called a "gift-wrapped present" Tuesday night by declaring her opposition to a livable wage.
"I do not support a livable wage," she said, adding that this is "an example of the fundamental difference between a liberal and a conservative."
Karen Handel really blew it on that livable wage question. You're not supposed to *actually say it*— Vann R. Newkirk II (@fivefifths) June 7, 2017
Offering an alternative vision, one that aligns closely with the aims of Congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump, Handel concluded that she does support "making sure that we have an economy that is robust with low taxes and less regulation."
"A gaffe like this in the final weeks of the race is a potentially fatal mistake." —Jeff SteinHandel's comments came in response to her Democratic rival Jon Ossoff, who said, "The minimum wage should be a living wage."
In recent weeks, opinion polls have tightened as Republicans consolidated support behind Handel and poured money into what has been called the "most expensive House race ever."
Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker, has garnered the support and enthusiasm of the national Democratic Party—which has also spent heavily—and activist groups looking to pick up a win in a deeply red state. The New York Times presented the race as "one in which the pressure is on the Democrats to show they can turn their anti-Trump energies into a victory."
In the first round of the special election, which took place in April, Ossoff missed winning an outright majority of the vote by a mere two percentage points. But, as Common Dreams reported, his performance defied expectations.
Now, the Times notes, Ossoff's crucial objective is "turning out his anti-Trump coalition in equal force a second time during summer vacation season."
Some viewed Tuesday's debate as a possible deciding factor.
"A gaffe like this in the final weeks of the race is a potentially fatal mistake," Vox's Jeff Stein said of Handel's comments on the minimum wage. "Polling suggests Handel doesn't have much room to lose. Ossoff is up by about 2 points in a recent poll—on pace to win a deeply conservative House district that has recently gone to Republicans by more than 20 points."
Polling also suggests that it is Ossoff, not Handel, who is on the right side of history when it comes to raising the minimum wage.
Hiking the minimum wage is a very popular idea, with more than half of voters saying they support it in some polls. Republican orthodoxy is that minimum wage hikes will result in job losses. Though the evidence is mixed from economists, there’s no doubt it remains a popular issue, particularly with an energized Democratic base.
Acknowledging this groundswell of support, top congressional Democrats last month joined Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in announcing their support for the Raise the Wage Act (pdf), legislation that, if enacted, would "raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024 and would be indexed to the median wage growth thereafter."
"It is a radical concept for our Republican friends," Sanders said while introducting the bill, "but we believe in the United States of America...if you work 40 hours a week or 50 hours a week, you should not be living in poverty."