Republican Karen Handel routed Dem Jon Ossoff’s bid to turn blue Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, in a special-election runoff to fill the House seat opened when Tom Price was named Health and Human Services Secretary. The career politician scuttled the bid of 30-year-old congressional staffer-turned-documentary filmmaker Ossoff in the most expensive House race in history. It clocked in at more than $56M spent, with lots of that going to TV advertising time.
TV news outlets went all in covering the election Tuesday night, when early voting had Handel and Ossoff trading the lead position early on. At one point, fewer than 466 votes separated the two. But with 66% of precincts reporting, Handel pulled ahead with a 9,306-vote lead over Ossoff. When 81% of precincts reported, cable news networks projected it for the Republican.
First-time candidate Ossoff’s loss dashed Democrats’ breakthrough dreams in the historically GOP district. Trump had eked out a win there thanks to “reluctant” Trump voters, aka those who disliked Hillary Clinton more than they disliked Trump, according to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight. An Ossoff win would have been taken as a referendum on Trump, political navel-lint gazers had said all day, and send a signal “reluctant” Trumpers everywhere were take-able, if Hillary puts a sock in it, next year. As Silver put it earlier this week, “Sometimes dumb things matter if everyone agrees that they matter.”
Polls had forecast a squeaker, when Ossoff’s 2-3 percentage-point lead melted into virtual-tie territory, which pundits attributed to late-breaking events. That included the Beltway baseball park shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise, which led to a GOP super PAC TV ad tying the shooting to Ossoff and his ilk.
Ossoff had snagged 48% of the vote, to Handel’s 20%, during the April 18 nonpartisan primary, with a major assist from Hollywood celebrities in the form of time, tweets and cash. Samuel L. Jackson was heard in a Pulp Fiction-ian radio ad, telling voters: “Vote for the Democratic Party. Stop Donald Trump, a man who encourages racial and religious discrimination and sexism. We have to channel the great vengeance and fury we have for this administration into votes at the ballot box.” Chelsea Handler, Alyssa Milano, George Takei, John Leguizamo, Kristen Bell, Connie Britton, Jessica Lange, Rhea Perlman, Jane Fonda and Jon Cryer also contributed to the elect-Ossoff effort, according to various reports.
Trump tweeted about the race seven times in two days, including day of voting: