ATLANTA (CN) – Jon Ossoff, a Democrat making his first bid for elective office, narrowly missed an outright win in a traditionally Republican House district in Georgia, a race seen as a referendum of President Donald Trump.
Ossoff garnered 48.1 percent of the vote, 1.9 percent shy of the 50 percent he needed to win the seat outright and avoid a June runoff election.
He now will face Karen Handel, the top vote-getter among 11 GOP candidates in Tuesday’s special congressional election to represent the Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District in suburban Atlanta.
Handel received just under 20 percent of the vote.
The district was previously represented by Tom Price, who is now the Trump administration’s Health and Human Services secretary.
Ossoff, a former congressional staffer, entered the race as a long shot – a Democrat hasn’t represented the district since former House Speaker Newt Gingrich won his first congressional race in 1978.
But he received tremendous support from national Democrats who saw the race as an early bellwether of how the party will do in the 2018 mid-term elections.
That support enabled Ossoff to raised $8.3 million in donations — dwarfing the war chests of his Republican competitors.
In a statement late Tuesday night, Ossoff described his strong showing as “a remarkable victory.”
“We defied the odds, shattered expectations, and now are ready to fight on and win in June,” he said.
Ossoff’s performance — coming after a better-than-expected showing by the Democrat in an special House election in Kansas last week — raises the stakes in the next special House election, which will held in Montana in May.
Republican Karen Handel is a former Georgia secretary of state who has allied herself with President Trump and is viewed as an establishment-friendly Republican.
During a brief speech Tuesday night she dismissed Ossoff as a “liberal lightweight” and promised to “kick a little Ossoff.”
President Trump also weighed in on the race, tweeting, “Despite major outside money, FAKE media support and eleven Republican candidates, BIG ‘R’ win with runoff in Georgia. Glad to be of help!”
Trump recorded a robocall prior to the election urging Republicans to vote, warning constituents that Ossoff would raise taxes, destroy their health care and “flood our country with illegal immigrants.”
When asked about the impact of the President’s involvement, Handel said, “I think the president is interested in what happens here. Why wouldn’t he be? Of course he has a vested interest in making sure that a Republican holds the seat.”