GOP Holds On in High-Profile Special Election in Georgia

Republican candidate for Georgia’s 6th District Congressional seat Karen Handel declares victory during an election-night watch party Tuesday, June 20, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

(CN) – Republican Karen Handel declared victory in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District late Tuesday night with a promise that she’ll work to gain the confidence of voters who backed her well-funded Democratic opponent.

Handel won about 52 percent of the vote to quell the upstart phenomenon of Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old Democrat who raised more than $23 million and became a symbol of opposition to President Donald Trump.

The matchup between Handel and Ossoff in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District had become a proxy for the national political atmosphere and a test of GOP strength early in Trump’s presidency, prompting record-breaking spending.

The total cost of the six-month race to represent a conservative enclave in Atlanta’s northern suburbs, is estimated at about $50 million.

Those funds were spent on a deluge of television and radio spots that seem to have inspired a higher-than typical turnout.

About 190,000 people voted in the April 18 election that triggered the special election, but more than 240,000 cast votes Tuesday.

In declaring victory, Handel thanked Trump for his support despite her delicate handling of the subject of the president throughout the primary and runoff election to fill the congressional seat vacated by Tom Price, who is now a member of Trump’s cabinet.

Trump is not particularly popular in the district (he carried it by only 2 points in the November 2016 election) and Handel largely avoided invoking his name during the campaign despite his appearance at a private fundraiser for her in May.

Handel also made a direct appeal to Ossoff’s supporters.

Democratic candidate for 6th congressional district Jon Ossoff concedes to Republican Karen Handel at his election night party in Atlanta, Tuesday, June 20, 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

“To the Jon Ossoff supporters, know that my commitments, they extend to every one of you as well,” Handel said. “We may have different beliefs, but we are part of one community, the community of the 6th District. And I will work just as hard to earn your confidence in the weeks and months ahead.”

She also noted last week’s shooting of Republican Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and said politics has become too embittered.

“What happened on that ballfield was a terrible tragedy and we need to all continue to lift up Steve and the others who were injured that day,” Handel said. “And we need to also lift up this nation so that we can find a more civil way to deal with our disagreements. Because in these United States of America, no one — no one — should ever feel their life threatened over their political beliefs and positions. And I say that ladies and gentlemen in regards to both sides of the political aisle.”

n the wake of the election, Democrats are left with the bitter hope of another tighter-than-usual margin, still searching for a contest where anti-Trump energy and flush campaign coffers actually add up to victory.

“We showed the world that in places where no one thought it was possible you could fight, we could fight,” Ossoff said in a statement Tuesday night. “This is not the outcome any of us were hoping for, but this is the beginning of something much bigger than us.”

Ossoff, a 30-year-old former congressional aide and documentary filmmaker, riled up a remarkable amount of support during the campaign, raising over $23 million and utilizing the efforts of more than 12,000 volunteers. But Ossoff could not survive attacks from Handel and other Republican leaders who cast him as an outsider.

During a June 6 debate, Handel repeatedly pointed out that Ossoff lives outside of the district in Atlanta (reportedly so that his fiancé can live closer to the university where she attends medical school) and made critical statements about his similarities to former House speaker Nancy Pelosi. “[His] values are some 3,000 miles away in San Francisco,” Handel said.

Handel is the first Republican woman to represent Georgia in Congress.

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