Handel win deals final election blow to Democrats
Trump-tied Republican defeats Ossoff in runoff
ROSWELL, GA. | The high hopes Democrats had of striking a political blow to President Trump in the battle for Georgia’s open congressional seat were shattered Tuesday.
Republican Karen Handel emerged victorious in the runoff race for the U.S. House seat in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District — beating back the “Resistance” movement and defending a seat in the wealthy Atlanta suburbs that Republicans have held for nearly 40 years.
Mrs. Handel, a former secretary of state, was declared the winner more than three hours after the polls closed at 7 p.m., overcoming a well-financed challenge from Democrat Jon Ossoff in the most expensive U.S. House race in history.
With 168 of the 208 precincts counted, the networks and The Associated Press called the race for Mrs. Handel, who led Mr. Ossoff, a former congressional aide and documentary filmmaker, by a 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent margin.
Billed as a referendum on the opening months of the Trump presidency, more than 220,000 people had voted with 20 percent yet to be tallied, signaling that Democrats and Republicans remain highly engaged in politics after the November presidential
election and that the built-in advantages in this district were too much for the Ossoff camp to overcome.
In her victory speech, Mrs. Handel offered “special thanks to the president of the United States of America,” prompting the crowd at her Atlanta headquarters to cheer and break into chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump!”
It marked the fourth time that Democrats have been able to claim only a moral victory in a special election to fill a House seat vacated by Trump Cabinet appointees.
“Nancy Pelosi threw the kitchen sink at her, yet Karen still came out on top and ready to fight for Georgia in Congress,” said Steve Stivers, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
“For all the Democrats’ bluster and despite pouring over $30 million into this race, I couldn’t be more proud to help keep this seat in Republican hands,” he said.
Democratic voters in this Republicanleaning area, though, said the loss would not change that Mr. Trump has helped them come out of the political closet, freeing them to declare their allegiances without fear in this and future elections.
After years of feeling like outcasts in the ruby-red 6th District, steering clear of political conversations for fear of blowback for their liberal stances.
It’s all a part of the Trump effect on American politics and the “Resistance” he has spawned.
“I have been like a closet Democrat for the 15 years that I have lived here, and I didn’t think there was anybody else. I thought I was of a small population,” said Jennifer Keeney, a 40-year-old mother of three girls who waved signs outside a polling place Tuesday. “After the Nov. 8 election, my friend invited me to be part of a liberal women’s group, and I was like, ‘Wait, there’s that?’”
Ms. Keeney said she used to get heckled “all the time” for having an Obama sticker on her minivan. Now, however, she sees Democrats gaining a foothold, with Mr. Ossoff in a tight race with Mrs. Handel.
“Now that we have a sense of community, it is like this big grass-roots movement here, and everyone is already talking about what we are going to do next,” she said.
Marla Cureton, 47, said she has been waiting to see this sort of activism, which she said amounted to “a win regardless of the outcome of the election.”
“Particularly white residents of this area that have held Democratic, liberal ideals have been silent, and this has given them a voice and comfort level to speak out,” said Ms. Cureton, who is black. “There was almost always an assumption that people were conservative in certain circles.”
Despite Mr. Trump’s victory in November, Democrats have long thought Georgia is poised to trend in their direction thanks to changing demographics — including in this district, which Mr. Trump carried by less than 2 percentage points.
For Eric Elmassian, a Republican voter here, that was worrisome. He said he lived first in Southern California and then Denver, but fled in part because of the wave of liberalism that swept both regions. He moved to Georgia to “get away from all that crap that was going on there, politically wise.
“Now I am over here, where it is nice and red, how I like it. But now we are getting influences from out of state so they can play the stupid game of poking at Trump or just making sure they can get the seat,” the 51-year-old said, directing his ire at national Democratic and allied groups that invested millions of dollars on behalf of Mr. Ossoff. “You guys screwed up California; you screwed up Denver.”
The election Tuesday was Democrats’ last chance to strike an electoral blow against the Republican Party. Democrats failed in special congressional elections in Kansas and Montana, and lost another race Tuesday in South Carolina, where Republican Ralph Norman beat Democrat Archie Parnell.
That left the Georgia seat, vacated by former Rep. Thomas Price to become health and human services secretary in the Trump Cabinet.
The candidates and their allies have spent more than $50 million on the Georgia race, making it the most expensive House contest in history.
Mr. Ossoff fell just shy of 50 percent in the April “jungle primary,” forcing a runoff with Mrs. Handel, who came in second in a race with just one major Democrat but numerous high-profile Republicans.
Allen Lundy took solace in the outcome, saying the fact that Democrats collected roughly half of the primary vote showed the district should no longer be labeled by the media as “conservative.”
“Jon won 47-plus percent of the primary vote in April — that’s a tossup district,” said Mr. Lundy, 66. “Yes, it has been conservative for 30 years, but the shift in demographics is inexorable. That is changing things all over the country, and particularly here.”
The political impact, though, has been hard to decipher because the last competitive congressional race here was the 2004 Republican primary, in which Mr. Price defeated state Sen. Robert Lamutt by 8 percentage points.
Mr. Prince won his sixth term in November by 23 percentage points, and even that was by far his closest general election result; twice the Democrats didn’t even put up a nominee.
“If you have an incumbent that wins a district by 20 points, it may not only be because he is a conservative Republican, it is also because he is an incumbent,” said Jay Williams, a Republican Party strategist, adding that the race could provide a clear picture. “My guess is the district has not been trending up Republican or conservative Republican.”
VICTORY: Karen Handel, a Republican, won Georgia’s 6th District House seat on Tuesday.