Republican Karen Handel beat Democrat Jon Ossoff in the closely watched, closely fought special election runoff for Georgia’s 6th congressional district on Tuesday night.
The runoff in the suburban Atlanta district took place over two months after neither candidate received 50 percent of the vote in the first round of the election. Though no Democrat has held the seat since 1979, Donald Trump won the district by just one percentage point. That political muddle meant that the race took on outsized meaning. An Ossoff victory would have been seen as a sign of discontent with Trump’s presidency. The campaign became the most expensive House race in American history, with Handel, Ossoff and a bevy of outside interests combining to spend a whopping $55 million.
In the end, though he cut deeply into the GOP’s usual margins, Ossoff couldn’t get over the hump. His loss will now feed into the ongoing debate over the future of the Democrats. Ossoff, who ran as a technocratic moderate, was viewed with suspicion by the party’s left flank, who are pushing the Democrats to become more overtly populist and not tailor their message to suburban and right-leaning voters like the ones in Georgia’s 6th district. Other factions, meanwhile, view those voters as crucial to taking back the levers of government.
Meanwhile, Karen Handel—an anti-gay, anti-abortion hardliner who rejected the concept of a living wage during the campaign—is headed to Washington. Donald Trump will presumably hail her victory as a sign of his continued strength, even though his press secretary, Sean Spicer, cautioned on Tuesday against reading too much into the result, whatever the outcome.