Despite Democrats' best efforts, the Georgia special election will head to a runoff in June after Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff failed to win a majority of the vote. Ossoff led the 18 candidates for the House seat vacated by Republican Tom Price, who now heads the Department of Health and Human Services, for most of election night but was unable to secure the 50% needed to avoid the runoff.
Ossoff led in all three counties making up Georgia's 6th District. The Democrat managed to turn Cobb County, which President Donald Trump easily won in the 2016 presidential race, blue.
Ossoff led Republican Karen Handel in Cobb County, 41.3% to 18.5%. Republican Judson Hill followed closely behind Handel with 17.9%.
Like Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Ossoff maintained control of DeKalb County, results showed. Ossoff led the county with 58.6%, followed not-so-closely behind by Handel with 16.6%.
With 78% of Fulton County reporting, Ossoff led with 47.9% to Handel's 22.2%. The votes from Fulton, which trickled in right before midnight, pushed Ossoff below the 50% mark and confirmed the runoff.
With 88% of the results reported in the district, Ossoff continued to lead with 48.3%, followed by Handel at 19.7%.
Republicans vs Jon Ossoff
Ossoff faced a barrage of attacks from Republicans, including President Trump, in the days leading up to the election.
On Tuesday, the president took to Twitter to encourage his supporters in Georgia to turn out and vote. "Democrat Jon Ossoff would be a disaster in Congress. VERY weak on crime and illegal immigration, bad for jobs and wants higher taxes. Say NO," Trump tweeted earlier on Tuesday.
Trump encouraged Republicans to vote in the district to force a runoff. "Just learned that Jon @Ossoff, who is running for Congress in Georgia, doesn't even live in the district. Republicans, get out and vote!" the president added.
The young Democratic candidate raised unprecedented amounts of money—nearly $8.3m—in his bid to turn Georgia's 6th District blue. Ossoff, who has worked as a congressional aide before turning to journalism, recently told The Guardian that he was "laser-focused on local economic issues".
"Folks appreciate my focus on local economic issues, on bringing jobs, investment and greater prosperity to the area, on college affordability and increasing opportunity at home," the Georgia native said.
But polls in the days before the special election suggested the possibility of a runoff between Ossoff and one of his leading Republican opponent, Karen Handel, was very likely. A WSB-TV poll released Friday (14 April) placed Ossoff in the lead at 45.3% with Handel following in second at 17.4%. Another poll by OpinionSavvy found the investigative filmmaker leading with 42%, while Handel followed with 21%.
As results poured in, the New York Times' election analyst Nate Cohn predicted Ossoff would win 48% of the vote. "Ossoff's attrition should probably slow down a bit now that so much of Cobb County is in, but still tracking toward a 48/48.5 type finish," Cohn wrote.
With 54% of the 210 precincts reporting, Handel was confident she would head off to the runoff against Ossoff. "You're looking at the top Republican voter getter y'all," Handel told supporters. "Some call me tough. Others call me scrappy. Others say I'm stubborn. All of that is true," she added.
Handel soon began receiving the support of other Republicans in the race. Bob Gray, who had 9.6% of the vote half way through the results, conceded to Handel around 11pm. "We are going to rally behind Karen Handel. We wish her Godspeed," Gray tweeted.
Shortly before midnight, Ossoff fell below 50% as results from Fulton County came in. The county guaranteed the runoff, pushing Ossoff to 48.6% with 72% of the county's precincts reporting. Trump soon claimed the runoff as a victory for Republicans.
Ossoff and Handel will now head to a runoff on 20 June in what will be a fierce battle for Price's Congressional seat.