WASHINGTON — Republican Karen Handel won Georgia’s special election Tuesday, keeping in GOP hands a seat Democrats had hoped would be the first of a trend of retaking control of the House.
Democrats had been pinning their hopes on Jon Ossoff — a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker and former congressional aide — against the former Georgia secretary of state. Leading up to the election, polls gave Ossoff a slight edge, but barely. Most political experts saw the race as a tossup and said turnout would be critical. Georgia doesn't often have competitive congressional races. In fact, out of the last 69 races since 2008, just one was decided by a margin less than 5 points, according to an analysis by Smart Politics.
On Tuesday night in South Carolina, Republican Ralph Norman won the special election to replace Mick Mulvaney, who became the head of the Office of Management and Budget. In addition to Georgia, Norman’s win over Democrat Archie Parnell made four special elections where Democrats failed to capture a Republican seat this year. The South Carolina race was expected to go for Norman and received far less attention than Georgia’s, but the race turned out to be closer than expected.
A record-breaking $23 million was poured in for Ossoff. Handel has not released her most recent fundraising numbers. Multiple analyses put the race at more than $50 million in total, including spending from outside groups.
Ossoff had the support of more than 11,000 volunteers, according to his campaign, but it didn't prove to be enough. In particular, some suburban women who felt frustrated by the results of the 2016 election decided to volunteer for him. One mom told USA TODAY she has knocked on more than 1,500 doors to convince people to vote for Ossoff.
Handel — who has run for both the governor’s mansion and the Senate before — had a series of high-profile supporters such as Vice President Pence and former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue campaigning in the district. President Trump has also fundraised on her behalf and given his support on Twitter.
Trump's son Eric Trump gloated over the win shortly after the race was called.
While Tom Price — who is now Health and Human Services secretary — won the district by more than 20 points in November, Trump won by less than 2 points.
Ossoff grew up in the district but currently does not live there. He lives near Emory University while his fiancee finishes medical school. Ossoff told USA TODAY that the issue didn't matter to voters and he is "proud to support her career even if I take some heat for it." But Republicans made the issue central to their campaign.
Handel told USA TODAY last week that voters were "incredibly enthusiastic" in "making sure that our next congressman be someone from this district, someone who has the deep relationships and connections that I have here.”
On Tuesday morning when Handel cast her vote, she said: “He wishes he could vote like me, because he doesn’t live in the district," according to The Hill.
Contributing: Fredreka Schouten