Republican Karen Handel beat Democrat Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s special election for the open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The race—which has garnered national attention and record breaking fundraising—closed out Tuesday night with Handel receiving more than 51 percent of the vote to Ossoff’s 48 percent, according to unofficial results posted Wednesday morning.
“This is not the outcome any of us were hoping for, but this is the beginning of something much bigger than us. So thank you, thank you for the most extraordinary experience I’ve ever had the honor of being a part of,” Ossoff said during his Tuesday night concession speech to a crowd of hundreds of supporters that gathered at a hotel in the southern portion of the district. The crowd responded with chants of “2018,” seemingly encouraging the Democrat to run again in the upcoming midterm elections.
“At a time when politics has been dominated by fear and hatred and scapegoating and division, this community stood up, women in this community stood up,” Ossoff said to cheers. “And we showed the world that in places where no one thought it was even possible to fight, we could fight.”
Emotions ran high among the crowd after Ossoff’s speech, as supporters expressed both disappointment and optimism.
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“I am disappointed in my neighbors, in my people. They didn’t stand on the right side of history,” Congressional District 6 resident Byanti Joseph told Rewire after Ossoff’s concession speech. “They don’t stand for the same values that we stand for, and that’s disappointing,” she added, vowing, “This is not the end. This is only the beginning.”
The special election runoff had a 58 percent voter turnout, with just under 260,000 of the district’s nearly 448,000 registered voters casting ballots. None of the special elections in Georgia last year had more than a 15 percent voter turnout rate. More voters cast ballots in the Sixth District in this race than in the 2014 midterm elections, though that race featured governor, lieutenant governor, and U.S. senator races at the top of the ticket.
Handel’s 51 to 48 win, about a four percentage point gap, represented 9,702 more votes for her than for Ossoff according to the unofficial results. During the 2014 midterm election, Tom Price, who is now the secretary of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, carried the district with 66 percent to his opponent’s 34 percent of the vote, a difference of about 68,000 votes. He was running for re-election against a relatively unknown opponent with a fairly inactive campaign.
When asked about working with Handel, district resident Aasees Kaur said, “Ultimately it’s on her if she chooses to listen and advocate for every person in this district and not just the majority. But we have to try and we have to do our part to build those relationships with her office.” Kaur volunteered as a precinct captain for Ossoff during both the April 18 special election and the June 20 runoff.
NARAL Pro-Choice America, which spent significant sums in the district to oppose Handel, framed the loss as a “narrow” one demonstrating a shift away from anti-choice politics.
“The fact that this race was close at all shows that voters are sick and tired of candidates who obsess over restricting access to abortion instead of focusing on the priorities of hardworking families,” NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement. “In a district that elected a Republican by 23 points just seven months ago, this narrow election result proves that momentum is shifting away from the Republican Party and their anti-choice agenda.”
Handel will now represent her district in the House, where she will be able to add her voice to the chorus of Republicans seeking to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Obama’s signature health-care reform law, and roll back access to reproductive health care.
Handel told a crowd gathered at her election night party Tuesday night that “We need to finish the drill on health care,” seemingly referencing congressional Republicans’ unpopular attempts to repeal the ACA and replace it with a policy that would leave millions without access to health insurance.