Jon Ossoff led the 18-candidate pack in Tuesday’s special election to fill an open U.S. House seat in Georgia, but he came just short of clearing the 50 percent hurdle to win the seat outright and will now compete in a June runoff election against Republican Karen Handel.
Ossoff earned 48 percent of the vote in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District, followed by Handel just shy of 20 percent.
“This is already a victory for the ages,” Ossoff told supporters gathered at an election night rally just before midnight, when vote totals from one county experiencing technical problems had yet to come in. “That no matter what the outcome is tonight, whether we take it all or we fight on, we have defied the odds. We have shattered expectations. We are changing the world.”
Late Tuesday night, Handel addressed supporters and pledged to fight for the House seat against Ossoff. In her 10 minute speech, she did not mention President Donald Trump, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“Tomorrow, we start the campaign anew,” she said, per the Journal-Constitution. “Beating Ossoff and holding this seat is something that rises above any one person.”
The results for the race were not finalized until after midnight Wednesday morning due to a data error in Fulton County that forced poll workers to screen ballots by hand, according to the Journal-Constitution.
Before the final results came in, President Donald Trump declared victory for Republicans in the race, touting that the GOP had prevented Ossoff from winning the race outright with his help.
The historically Republican seat had previously been held by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Trump only won the suburban Atlanta district by one point in November, however, giving Democrats hope that they could channel anti-Trump energy into a victory there.
Democrats still have an opportunity to flip the district in the June 20 runoff, but it will be a tall order now that Republicans can put their full might behind a single candidate. Ossoff consistently led polls of the 18-candidate field for the jungle primary-style election, and was polling at an average of 42 percent in the last nine polls before polls opened, according to FiveThirtyEight. But the crowded field, which included 11 Republicans, gave Ossoff a change to rise above the fray. That’s an advantage he won’t have in June.
The special election in Georgia drew national attention as one of the first congressional pickup opportunities after Trump’s November victory—and the most promising one at that for Democrats, who were especially optimistic about being able to flip the fairly wealthy, well-educated district. Ossoff’s fundraising prowess boosted Democrats’ hopes, and by Tuesday he had raised more than $8 million for the race.
But as the frontrunner, Ossoff was subject to relentless attacks from conservatives, with one Republican candidate, former Georgia state Sen. Judson Hill, making a last-ditch attempt to tie him to terrorism.
Trump himself waded into the race in its final days in a big way, with multiple tweets going after Ossoff and a robocall urging Republicans to get out to the polls. Though Trump got involved at the eleventh hour, Ossoff declined to go after the President at all during a Tuesday morning interview on CNN, instead choosing to pitch his economic message.
Back at the local level, news broke on Monday afternoon that some electronic poll books had been stolen over the weekend in Cobb County, part of which lies in the 6th District. The county elections board said that the stolen units would be replaced for the election, and there was no evidence the theft had any impact on the race.
Ossoff’s first-place finish came on the heels of a closer-than-expected race last week to fill another open U.S. House seat in Kansas vacated by CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Republican Ron Estes won by a seven-point margin in a solidly conservative district that Trump had swept by 27 points in November, a 20-point swing.
This post has been updated.