Georgia Republican candidate Karen Handel will win a high-stakes special election in the state’s 6th Congressional District, the Associated Press and several other news outlets reported on Tuesday night.
Polls officially closed at 7 p.m. ET — with the exception of two locations that remained open for an extra 30 minutes after experiencing technical issues.
The race pitted 30-year-old Democrat and political neophyte Jon Ossoff against Handel, who is Georgia’s former Secretary of State.
According to Decision Desk, Handel finished with 51.9% of the vote, while Ossoff followed with 48.1%.
The Daily Beast’s Patricia Murphy tweeted that as the returns came in, Ossoff’s volunteers and staff were “visibly shocked.”
Ossoff called Handel to concede the race after results made it clear she would emerge the winner. In a fiery speech he gave afterward, Ossoff thanked his supporters in the district, which he said he become “the epicentre of politics” in recent months.
“At a time when politics has been dominated by fear and hatred and scapegoating and division, this community stood up, women in this community stood up — you did — and you picked this campaign up, and you picked me up, and you picked Alisha up, and you carried us on your shoulders,” Ossoff said. Alisha Kramer is Ossoff’s fiancée.
Ossoff added that while the results were not “the outcome any of us were hoping for,” it was “the beginning of something much bigger than us.” He ended by thanking supporters again and continued, “The fight goes on. Hope is still alive.”
‘They haven’t figured out how to beat Trump’
Handel spoke to her own supporters shortly after Ossoff made his concession speech.
After acknowledging that it was a “very, very tight” and “contentious” race, Handel thanked voters and government officials who supported her. She singled out Trump to thank him for his support, and when she did, attendees cheered and began chanting his name.
The Washington Post’s Robert Costa said he received a text message from a senior White House official after Handel was projected to win. “They haven’t figured out how to beat Trump,” the official reportedly said.
Handel also took a moment to thank House Majority Whip Steve Scalise for his support. Scalise was critically wounded last week when a James Hodgkinson, a fierce Trump critic, opened fire at the Republican congressional baseball practice.
“What happened out there on the ball field was a terrible tragedy,” Handel said. “And we need to all continue to lift up, see any others who were injured that day, and we need to also lift up this nation so that we can find a more civil way to deal with our disagreements,” she continued. “Because in these United States of America, no one should ever feel their life threatened over their political beliefs and position. And I say that … in regards to both sides of the political aisle.”
Handel also credited Ossoff for being “gracious” in his concession.
Trump congratulated Handel on her victory, tweeting, “Congratulations to Karen Handel on her big win in Georgia 6th. Fantastic job, we are all very proud of you!” A text from the Trump campaign declared: “Congrats to Karen Handel on a HUGE win in GA! Democrats lose again (0-4). Total disarray. The MAGA Mandate is stronger than ever. BIG LEAGUE.”
Vice President Mike Pence also weighed in and tweeted, “Congrats Karen Handel! Great campaign & great victory! With @realDonaldTrump in the White House & you in Congress, we will #MAGA!”
House Speaker Paul Ryan released a statement shortly after outlets predicted a Handel victory. Ryan congratulated Handel on her “hard-earned and well-deserved” win.
“Democrats from coast to coast threw everything they had at this race, and Karen would not be defeated,” Ryan’s statement said. “The people of Georgia’s 6th Congressional District are the big winners tonight because they have elected a representative who is going to tirelessly fight for them and their interests.”
Ryan, who campaigned with Handel and urged the district’s voters to cast their ballots for her, added that she is “eager to get to work.”
“I’m excited to have her in the House of Representatives, and I look forward to working with her as we tackle our country’s most pressing problems,” the statement concluded.
The Republican National Committee also congratulated Handel on her victory. “Tonight, the people of Georgia’s Sixth District overwhelmingly voted not only for Karen, but also for President Trump’s agenda of replacing our broken healthcare system, reforming an outdated tax code, and prioritising infrastructure investment,” said a statement from RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.
“For the fourth time since November, voters have rejected the Democrat’s agenda of obstruction and made it clear it’s time get to work for the American people and join President Trump’s administration in Making America Great Again.”
See the results below:
Georgia’s special election was billed as a potential referendum on Trump, who heavily endorsed Handel’s candidacy.
Polls leading up to the results indicated an extremely tight race — Handel registered a last-minute lead of 0.2% over Ossoff according to a RealClearPolitics polling average.
McDaniel told Fox News’ Martha MacCallum after polls closed, “It’s going to be tight. It’s going to be neck-and-neck.” She added that she had seen Handel pick up momentum towards the end of the early voting period.
The election saw record-high early-vote turnout, and strategists said Tuesday’s turnout would likely blow previous records out of the water as well.
Read below about why and how the race to fill a congressional seat in a non-election year catapulted to national attention to become the most expensive House race in US history.
Georgia's 6th district seat unexpectedly opened up when former congressman Tom Price was tapped by Trump to head up the Department of Health and Human Services.
Price represented Georgia's 6th for 12 years, and the district has been held by Republicans for almost 40 years. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich represented it for 20 years, from 1979-1999.
When Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced a special election would be held in April to determine who would replace Price, it immediately sparked nationwide attention, as Democrats and Republicans viewed it as an opportunity to shape the electoral landscape into the 2018 midterm elections.
Ossoff quickly emerged the Democratic frontrunner, while Handel was viewed as the likely Republican candidate. In the first round of the election in April, Ossoff garnered about 48% of the vote, while Handel got 20%.
The results of the first round were 'a wake-up call' for Republicans, Chip Lake, a Republican strategist in Georgia and former Capitol Hill chief of staff, told Business Insider.
Rachel Paule, a Democratic grassroots organiser in the 6th district, said the biggest indicator of local Democratic sentiment she'd seen was the number of 'secret liberals who came out of the woodwork' after Trump was elected last year.
A Republican congressman 'was just sort of a given, and a lot of people were afraid to speak out because this is such a conservative area,' Paule said of Georgia's 6th District. She said Ossoff's candidacy had given her and fellow organisers a chance to 'make meaningful change' by flipping the seat.
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