Despite massive spending, Dems fail to take U.S. House seat in Georgia

30-year-old Democrat fails to reach 50% to avoid a run-off

Republican candidate Karen Handel for Georgia's 6th Congressional District special election talks to supporters during a campaign stop at Santino's Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria in Alpharetta

DUNWOODY, Ga. —— Democrat candidate Jon Ossoff fell short in his bid to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia on Tuesday. While Ossoff ended up as the top vote-getter in a crowded field of 18 candidates vying to fill the seat left vacant by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, he ended up short of the votes needed to win the seat outright. He held 48.3 percent of the vote — short of the 50 percent he needed to become the first Democrat to represent Atlanta’s northern suburbs since the 1970s. Ossoff now faces a June 20 runoff with Republican Karen Handel, former Georgia Secretary of State, who finished second in the all-parties primary.

With few other events on the political calendar, the race was billed as a referendum on President Trump’s first few months in office. Republicans have controlled the seat for decades, but Trump only won it by 1 percentage point in last November’s presidential election.

Democrats, searching for answers at a time when they are shut out of power in Washington, found a unifying figure in Ossoff, a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker who campaigned on a promise to “Make Trump Furious.” He raised more than $8 million in the first three months of the year, much of it from out of state, and drew volunteers from across the country.

Ossoff benefited from a large Republican field of 11 candidates, some of whom emphasized their loyalty to Trump while others kept their distance. National Republican groups spent millions of dollars painting Ossoff as a neophyte who does not live in the area he aims to represent. Trump himself targeted Ossoff with robocalls and a barrage of Twitter messages.

“BIG ‘R’ win with runoff in Georgia. Glad to be of help!” he wrote late on Tuesday.

This is the second loss in as many weeks for Democrats who have tried to make special elections a referendum on Trump’s presidency. Last week the GOP held on to held a conservative Kansas seat vacated when Trump tapped Republican Representative Mike Pompeo to head the Central Intelligence Agency.