Republican Karen Handel has won the 6th Congressional District seat in a narrow victory over Democrat Jon Ossoff in a special election that burned through record-setting campaign funds and drew a national spotlight.
Ossoff conceded around 10:30 p.m., as Handel was leading him about 52.3 percent to 47.5 percent with more than 81 percent of precincts reporting, according to unofficial results from the Georgia secretary of state’s office.
The district’s Perimeter Center area was a prime battleground to the very end, and both campaigns held their Election Night parties there. Handel supporters celebrated at the Hyatt Regency at Villa Christina in Brookhaven. Ossoff supporters mourned at the Westin in Sandy Springs’ Concourse Center.
Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state and Fulton County Board of Commissioners chair, is a well-known figure in the majority-Republican district, which includes parts of Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs. Ossoff was a political newcomer who lives outside the district, an unusual situation allowed by the U.S. Constitution.
Handel replaces former U.S. Rep. Tom Price, who left the seat earlier this year to become the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services.
In a statement, Handel said she would “ensure the conservative legacy and leadership” of past 6th Congressional District seat holders including Tom Price, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson and Newt Gingrich.
“These are challenging times in our nation. We are facing real and serious issues – from terrorism, protecting our borders to curtailing government spending,” she said. “Tonight, voters recognized these are times that call for someone who brings real experience – in career and in life.”
Dunwoody Councilmember Terry Nall praised Handel’s victory and said he looked forward to working with her in the future.
“Successful community leaders work closely with leaders of other governments in order to better serve its citizens with a seat at the table. As a Dunwoody leader, I will continue working with our federal and state representatives to ensure Dunwoody needs are considered,” he said in a statement.
The race was viewed nationally as a sort of referendum on President Trump and locally as another sign of the area shifting from Republican red to mixed GOP-Democrat purple. Ossoff ran on a slogan of “Flip the 6th.”
Hundreds of people packed Ossoff’s rally and booed when CNN, broadcast on large TV screens, announced it was calling for Handel to win the race. Some tears were shed, but the overwhelmingly the crowd appeared upbeat. Hundred chanted, “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like!” several times before Ossoff took the stage to cheers.
In a statement, Ossoff said the voters of the 6th Congressional District and a campaign that boasted 12,000 volunteers was “a beacon of hope for people across the country.”
“At a time when American politics is dominated by fear and deception, this community stood up for politics based on shared values, shared interests, civility, and respect,” he said.
Many of those volunteers remained optimistic and said the groundwork has been laid for future races.
“The Georgia GOP has taken two and a half decades to be where they are today; this is year one for the Georgia Democratic Party in my opinion,” said Joe Seconder of Dunwoody, founder of the Perimeter Progressives. “This is year one for active, progressive and engaged Democrats. We have built a network that did not exist six months ago.”
Becky Alterman of Dunwoody at the Ossoff rally acknowledged her disappointment, but said energy surrounding Ossoff’s campaign was a “silver lining.”
“I think it means we got a really strong movement started and this is not how it is going to be forever,” she said.
Alterman said this was her first campaign where she volunteered. She did so because she opposed Handel’s views of social issues and, she said, she wanted to send a message to Trump.
“Things are changing. I think we’ll get there,” she said.
Handel will soon have to defend the seat for the 2018 midterm elections.
Speaking before the Election Night results came in, Oglethorpe University political science professor Joseph Knippenberg said this special election is so special, it cannot be used to predict 2018. Among the reasons: the enormous campaign funding.
“Two sides spent $50 million on this race… so it is not much of a predictor for future races,” Knippenberg said. “This race is unprecedented and can’t be replicated that many times in 2018.”
Knippenberg said he believes political convention wisdom will hold true that incumbents, regardless of party, will win re-election in 2018. Where there may be question is where there is an open seat, he said. Republicans will, however, be “running scared” in 2018, no matter what happened in this race. They will have to run harder and will be winning more narrowly, he said.
–John Ruch and Dyana Bagby