ATLANTA — Republican Karen Handel defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff in a high-stakes special election for a Georgia House seat on Tuesday, denying Democrats their first major victory of the Donald Trump era.
Handel bested Ossoff by 3.8 percentage points in the most expensive House race in history.
It was a much closer margin than the 20-plus point wins typically posted by former Rep. Tom Price — whose departure to become Trump’s health and human services secretary created the vacancy.
But it wasn’t what Democrats who pumped $23 million into Ossoff’s campaign so desperately craved: A win.
Handel’s victory showed that even with Republicans in power, the GOP’s message in recent election cycles — focused largely on urging voters to reject House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi — remains potent.
The successful execution of that playbook could calm congressional Republicans’ ruffled nerves as the GOP advances major legislation to overhaul the nation’s health care system and eyes a massive reform of its tax structure.
It also calls into question whether Democrats can sustain the energy fueling the party’s anti-Trump resistance after losses in four consecutive special elections — including Kansas, Montana and South Carolina.
At a Hyatt Regency in northern Atlanta, more than 100 attendees cheered and celebrated Handel’s victory.
Handel took the stage and told supporters she’d received a call from Ossoff conceding the race.
“He was more than gracious and he thanked me for a spirited campaign. And I wish him and Alisha all the best in the new life that they are going to be starting,” she said, referring to Ossoff’s fiancee, Alisha Kramer.
Handel thanked Trump, who had tweeted his support for her campaign in recent days, by name — prompting the crowd to interrupt with cheers and chants of “Trump, Trump, Trump.”
“A special thanks to the President of the United States of America,” she said. “And let’s not forget, our equally great vice president, Mike Pence.”
Handel also thanked House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who remains in the hospital recovering from the recent shooting at a GOP congressional baseball practice.
“Right up until that tragic day on the ballfield, Steve would drop me a text message every single week to make sure I was doing OK and hanging tough,” Handel said. “He even called me ‘the terminator’ in one of them.”
Handel issued a call for civility, saying “we also need to 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.”