Republican Karen Handel defends district in Georgia special election, beating Jon Ossoff

Fending off a serious Democratic challenger in a race widely viewed as a barometer of public opinion on President Donald Trump’s presidency, Republican Karen Handel won the special election Tuesday to succeed Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price in Georgia’s sixth congressional district.

The Associated Press called the race for Handel at 10:12 p.m. with the Republican leading by a 52.5-47.5 margin with 168 out of 208 precincts reporting.

Handel’s defense of the district, occupying the affluent suburbs north of Atlanta, comes as a blow to challenger Jon Ossoff who raised over $20 million for the race after finishing less than two percentage points shy of achieving a majority and winning the seat outright during the first round of voting April.

Democrats nationwide viewed the special election as an opportunity to mobilize anti-Trump sentiment early in the president’s tenure. Though two previous opportunities to flip house seats in special elections in Kansas and Montana fell short this year, Georgia’s sixth was thought to be within reach after Hillary Clinton nearly turned the district blue in November.

Clinton fell short of Trump by less than two percentage points in the presidential election, four years after Republican Mitt Romney triumphed over President Barack Obama by a 61-38 percent margin in 2012. No Democrat has represented the district in Congress since 1979.

Donors from across the country showed an outpouring of support for the photogenic 30-year-old Ossoff in his first political race, banking on an influx of younger voters and the changing demographics of the region to carry the documentary film producer to Washington.

The widespread external interest in the candidate — who lives beyond the borders of the sixth himself — became a point of contention for Republicans, who decried that over 95 percent of his donations came from outside Georgia. The race ultimately became the most expensive congressional election in U.S. history.

Handel, 55, a former Georgia secretary of state, won election after falling short in Republican primaries for governor and U.S. senator in 2010 and 2014, respectively. After receiving nearly 20 percent of the vote to finish a distant second to Ossoff in April’s jungle primary — the top finisher in a field of 11 Republicans — Handel received the backing of the White House, with Trump attending an Atlanta fundraiser in late April and tweeting his support in recent days.

KAREN HANDEL FOR CONGRESS. She will fight for lower taxes, great healthcare strong security-a hard worker who will never give up! VOTE TODAY

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 20, 2017

Fundraising for the Republican paled in comparison to the Democrat’s total, but Handel was boosted heavily by outside groups. Super PACs and the National Republican Congressional Committee contributed a combined $18.2 million to defend the seat once occupied by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson.

Earlier in the evening Tuesday, Handel spoke to the few hundred people at her victory party, telling the lively crowd that she liked the early numbers she was seeing, but cautioned that the crowd should keep watching.