The Republican group aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan had a strategy to keep Georgia's 6th Congressional District from slipping away: Make the contest a referendum on Nancy Pelosi.

Voters in the traditionally conservative seat had resisted President Trump and were slow to embrace Republican nominee Karen Handel in the special election to replace Tom Price, now Health and Human Services secretary.

But Congressional Leadership Fund rediscovered a familiar antidote to Trump's drag and Handel's standoffishness in its internal polling: Pelosi, the House minority leader from California, who would once again become speaker in a Democratic takeover.

If Republicans could make Democrat Jon Ossoff synonymous with Pelosi liberalism, uninterested GOP voters who might otherwise skip an irregular congressional election would be motivated to show up. It worked.

After entering Election Day tied with Ossoff, Handel exceeded expectations and pulled away. She led 52 percent to 48 percent with 80 percent of the vote in when the record-setting $50 million race was called.

"If Pelosi ever retired, we'd be in a lot of trouble," Corry Bliss, CLF's executive director, said in an interview with the Washington Examiner.

Congressional Leadership Fund, also known as Ryan's super PAC, invested $7 million in the Georgia race, $4 million in the runoff campaign that began on April 19. Handel needed the help; she raised $6 million total, far less than Ossoff's more than $23 million.

The group opened field office in Roswell, leafy community in the upscale, suburban Atlanta district, and deployed 100 paid field staff to knock on doors and drum up votes. They were joined by an additional 50 volunteers and overseen by CLF's data director and deputy national field director.

The National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican National Committee also contributed. The NRCC spent $7 million and stationed committee staff in the district. The RNC invested with 15 staff, 2 million phone calls, 260,000 knocks at the front door and use of its data analytics program.

Funded by loyal Ryan donors, CLF was unique in that it functioned as a shadow campaign. The group's field program was joined by ads on television and social media and via direct mail, with the approximately 300,000 contacts made targeted toward voting blocs specifically chosen for the runoff.

That included 38,000 Republicans who voted in the GOP presidential primary in 2016 but didn't vote in the 6th District special open primary on April 18, plus an additional 75,000 Republicans who usually vote for president but not in midterms.

CLF even scraped for votes in overwhelmingly Democratic DeKalb County, targeting the 8,000 Republicans who live there.

All fit the profile of an inconsistent voter likely to choose the GOP candidate if only they participated, a universe Bliss and his team determined was crucial to Handel's holding off the Ossoff surge fueled by liberal energy and the $23 million it generated for his campaign.

"We were concerned, with school being out and summer vacation, a lot of people just might not be around," Bliss said. "That put more of a premium on organization and enthusiasm, which, to be honest, the Democrats had an edge."

The effectiveness of CLF's massive field operation hinged on its message — on successfully transforming the pragmatic centrist Ossoff was running as into the Right's liberal caricature of Pelosi.

To pull it off, the super PAC traveled to San Francisco, which is situated in the House minority leader's California district, to film television ads painting Ossoff as a "Pelosi puppet" who represents "West Coast values."

The super PAC wasn't the only GOP group to run anti-Pelosi ads in this campaign. But it was among the more creative — at times, out of necessity.

No casting agency in San Francisco would work with the group, so it had to hire actors from out of town and fly them in to film them in to get the footage of them in front of iconic city landmarks praising Pelosi and Ossoff as a California dream team.

San Francisco charges a licensing fee to use the image of its famous trolley car in advertisements and literature.

But 10 days after CLF began running its ad in the Atlanta media market, San Francisco returned CLF's check for $623 uncashed, declining to grant the group permission to use the trolley car in its spots because of its partisan affiliation.

Congressional Leadership Fund said the city threatened to sue the group if it didn't edit the trolley car from the ad.

The super PAC ignored the threat and was never sued. In the ad in question, a graphic of a poster that says "Jon Ossoff; San Francisco's Congressman" is super imposed on footage of a moving trolley car.

Handel adopted the message in her attacks down the stretch.

"You might live just five minutes outside the district, but your values are 3,000 miles away in San Francisco," she said in their first debate earlier this month and many more times after that.