Ossoff had the plurality of votes with about 88 percent of precincts reporting, but was below the 50 percent plus 1 vote needed to win outright. Handel had drawn about 20 percent of the vote. Another 16 contenders appeared to finish far out of the running.
For Ossoff, a virtual unknown who doesn’t even live in the majority-Republican district—an unusual situation allowed by the U.S. Constitution—the vote totals came amid national media attention and party support as he presented the race as a referendum on President Donald Trump.
Handel emerged from a huge field of Republicans as the experienced contender. The Roswell resident is a former Georgia secretary of state and Fulton County chair, though she has failed in runs for governor and U.S. Senate. Trump support, or lack thereof, was something of a litmus test among GOP candidates, too, as they sniped at each other with negative ads.
The president himself weighed in on the race several times via his favorite medium, Twitter, including after the race was called a runoff.
“Despite major outside money, FAKE media support and eleven Republican candidates, BIG ‘R’ win with runoff in Georgia,” Trump tweeted. “Glad to be of help!”
Ossoff held his Election Night party at Dunwoody’s Crown Plaza hotel in the Ravinia complex. Among the local attendees was Joe Seconder, founder of Perimeter Progressives, a new anti-Trump group that drew many supporters to its debut meeting in February, held just up the street from the hotel.
At her party in Roswell, Handel drew such supporters as Dunwoody City Councilmember Terry Nall and Brookhaven City Councilmember Joe Gebbia. Coincidentally, Handel celebrated her birthday on Election Day and the usual campaign night amenities were joined by a birthday cake.
Inside the Ossoff party
Ossoff’s party had a rock-concert atmosphere. The hotel ballroom was packed with hundreds of supporters and cars lined the narrow roads at the complex.
A large stage for dozens of TV cameras was set up in the back and a large area of the ballroom was set aside for a dozen tables where about 20 reporters sat at laptops.
DuBose Porter, chair of the Georgia Democratic Party, led the raucous crowd into a loud chant of “Flip the 6th!”—a campaign slogan about bringing Democratic representation to the majority-Republican district. He said this election was laying the groundwork for 2018.
State Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta), the House Minority Leader, said of her party’s supporters that “we’re going to flip the 6th and flip the script.”
“The truth is out there — Georgia has changed, the 6th District has changed,” Abrams said to a cheering crowd. “This is not about Jon Ossoff. This is not about a tweet storm. We believe in the souls and values of Georgia.”
Joe Seconder of Dunwoody, the founder of Perimeter Progressives, said, “I found out I’m not the only Democrat in Dunwoody” as he waved at the crowd in the ballroom.
“I thought it was wildly crazy to think Ossoff would win outright,” Seconder said. But he said that Ossoff can win the runoff and live up to the national attention. “Even though the seat doesn’t change the vote in Congress, it damn well changes the perception to the American public,” Seconder said.
Eileen Esworthy of Sandy Springs brought her son, Evan, 15, to the party to show him that local politics matters, she said.
“Our local community has a say in what happens nationally,” she said.
Esworthy actively volunteered for Ossoff and campaigned for him — something she’s never done before for a candidate.
“I’m very unhappy with the direction our country is going,” she said. “I feel disenfranchised by the presidential administration.”
Eric Singh of Sandy Springs and Scott Henderson of Roswell are friends who volunteered for Ossoff in what they said was their first campaign work.
“Before I thought it wasn’t worth it,” Singh said. “Now it is.”
Inside the Handel party
Handel’s party at the DoubleTree Hotel on Holcomb Bridge Road in Roswell drew about 100 people. She attracted a smaller media presence than Ossoff, with a half-dozen TV cameras in the back and a conference table of reporters on laptops.
A birthday cake was brought out early in the evening and the crowd sang “Happy Birthday.” Handel held up a strand of pearls that were with the cake, a birthday decoration that was a nod to her signature accessory.
“I have the greatest gift ever, and this is all of you in this room,” Handel said in brief comments to the crowd.
Dunwoody Councilmember Terry Nall said Handel would represent the area well and likes her campaign’s “energy.”
“It was a very hard-fought race, but the energy is very high and support is very strong,” Nall said, adding that he believes Handel “would be good for both DeKalb County and Dunwoody.”
Longtime Dunwoody residents Bev and Windy Wingate were among Handel’s supporters.
“Having known her for many years and supported her in the past, I have nothing but high hopes,” Bev Wingate said. “She’s a workhorse, not a showhorse,” Bev Wingate.
Also attending were Jim and Laura Strange of Dunwoody.
“She’s a very solid person and we really respected her as secretary of state. … And she’s local, she lives in the district,” Jim Strange said.
Laura Strange said Handel has the combined experience of business savvy and political savvy that other Republican candidates didn’t.
Brookhaven Councilmember Joe Gebbia was not impressed with Ossoff’s support and national money.
“The wild card [in the race] has been the tremendous influence from outside the state. …”I think it was a knee-jerk reaction to Trump,” Gebbia said.
“I’m saddened that the Democratic Party thinks it can buy this seat…I think the Democrats could have done themselves a world of good by picking a meaningful candidate — Jon Ossoff certainly doesn’t fit that bill,” Gebbia continued. “I don’t think he has the depth and understanding to be a good representative for the district.”
–Reporting by John Ruch and Dyana Bagby. Photos by Dyana Bagby.