ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) — 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 led Ossoff by 4.8 percentage points with more than three-fourths of the 6th District’s precincts having reported their results at 10 p.m. ET, in the most expensive House race in US 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 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 Handel supporters packed into the hotel’s ballroom. The crowd was buzzing after Handel’s 8 p.m. appearance onstage to pump up her supporters about early vote numbers — at the time, she was ahead of the GOP’s forecast.
“Everything we’re seeing is incredibly encouraging,” she said.
Otherwise, though, attendees kept an eye on the televisions, which were tuned to Fox News at Handel’s event — and CNN at Ossoff’s election night party nearby.
At Ossoff’s party, the mood was different. “We already have so much to celebrate,” his fiancee told supporters, as the DJ cued “I Will Survive.”