By Jonathan Martin and Richard Fausset
ATLANTA – Karen Handel, a veteran Republican officeholder, overcame a deluge of liberal money to win a special House election in Georgia on Tuesday, bridging the divide in her party between admirers of President Trump and those made uneasy by his turbulent new administration.
Handel, 55, fended off Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old Democrat and political newcomer who emerged from obscurity to raise $25 million from progressives across the country eager to express their anger at Trump. That fervor quickly elevated what would otherwise have been a sleepy local race into a high-stakes referendum on Trump, and the most expensive House campaign in history.
The apparent success of Republican attacks linking Ossoff to the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, and her “San Francisco values” also affirmed the efficacy of tying Democratic candidates in conservative districts to their brethren in more liberal parts of the country.
With 207 out of 208 precincts reporting, Handel had 52.6 percent of the vote to Ossoff’s 47.4 percent.
Addressing supporters in Atlanta, Handel noted with pride that she had become the first Republican woman sent to Congress from Georgia, and she pledged to represent all of her constituents, including Ossoff’s supporters. But she made clear she would work to pass major elements of the Republican agenda, including health care and tax overhauls.
“We have a lot work to do,” Handel said. “A lot of problems we need to solve.”
For Democrats, the loss was demoralizing after questionable “moral victories” in two earlier special election defeats, for House seats in conservative districts in Kansas and Montana.
Addressing a crush of cameras and supporters who spilled out of a hotel ballroom, Ossoff tried to strike a hopeful note as he conceded defeat.
“This is not the outcome any of us were hoping for,” he said. “But this is the beginning of something much bigger than us.”
Even as Ossoff lost, Democrats’ spirits were somewhat lifted by the unexpectedly strong showing of their nominee in another special House election Tuesday, in South Carolina. In a conservative district vacated by Mick Mulvaney, now the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, African-Americans came out in force for a wealthy Democrat, Archie Parnell, and the Republican candidate, Ralph Norman, won by a narrower margin than Handel in Georgia.