Republican Karen Handel wins Georgia House election

Claudine Rigal
Juin 21, 2017

Voters here are classic suburban Republicans: They make good money and are highly educated, if not entirely wedded to the irreverent politics of the Republican president, Donald Trump.

The most expensive House race in US history heads to voters Tuesday in suburban Atlanta.

Democrats are 0 for 4 in congressional elections this year, having earlier lost races to fill vacant seats in Kansas and Montana. Party leaders profess encouragement from the trends, but the latest losses mean they will have to rally donors and volunteers after a tough stretch of special elections. While that tends to be a typical part of the GOP playbook, some of the advertisements from Handel-supporting SuperPACs were especially provocative, like one spot that tried to link Ossoff to Kathy Griffin shortly after she did a photo shoot in which she held up a bloody effigy of Trump's head.

Jon Ossoff supporters celebrate his lead over his opponent in Georgia's 6th Congressional District special election, at an election night event in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., June 20, 2017.

Republican candidate Karen Handel and husband, Steve Handel (left), prepare to vote.

The result no doubt comes as relief for Republicans who had grown concerned about whether their party - buffeted by the scandals plaguing the Republican president - could hold the seat in Georgia's sixth district. CNN projected just after 9 p.m. ET, Republican Ralph Norman will win the special election in the SC 5th Congressional District, defeating Democrat Archie Parnell in a closer than expected race to fill Mick Mulvaney's seat.

Handel told USA TODAY last week that voters were "incredibly enthusiastic" in "making sure that our next congressman be someone from this district, someone who has the deep relationships and connections that I have here".

"It's that fighting spirit, that perseverance and tenacity that I will take to Washington", she said Tuesday night. The president himself struggled here, though, edging Democrat Hillary Clinton but falling short of a majority among an affluent, well-educated electorate that typically has given Republican nominees better than 60 percent of the vote. At every turn, she sought to remind voters that Ossoff lived outside the district and that his values were "3,000 miles away".

In victory, she commended Ossoff and pledged to work for his supporters.

"This is not the outcome many of us were hoping for". Party organizations, independent political action committees and donors from Los Angeles to Boston sent a cascade of money into a race, filling metro Atlanta's airwaves with ads and its 6th District neighborhoods with hordes of paid canvassers. She rarely mentioned him, despite holding a closed-door fundraiser with him earlier this spring.

She also relentlessly attacked Ossoff as an inexperienced stooge of national Democrats funded by out-of-state interlopers.

"I said to everyone this was going to be a very, very tight race, that it was going to be contentious, and that it was going to require all hands on deck, and that is exactly what we had", Handel told supporters.

White House Communications Director Mike Dubke - a longtime Republican operative with an establishment pedigree who never quite jelled with Trump's chaotic, insurgent operation - resigned from his post last month, and Spicer has unofficially taken on some of Dubke's off-camera messaging duties.

David Martosko - the USA political editor of DailyMail.com, who during the campaign earned a reputation for flattering coverage of Trump, with whom he had a personal relationship - also recently spoke to West Wing officials about the communications operation but is not expected to be offered a role, a senior administration official said. A super PAC backed by Ryan spent $7 million alone. Handel has not released her most recent fundraising numbers.

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