Democrat Jon Ossoff led all candidates in a 17-way race to succeed Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price in Georgia's sixth congressional district, but fell short of receiving the necessary 50 percent to avoid a runoff in the race widely viewed as a mandate on President Donald Trump's first months in office.
A first place finish for Ossoff was expected as Democrats in the traditionally red suburban Atlanta district heavily favored the 30-year-old first-time candidate, while Republicans spread their votes across 11 choices. Former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, a Republican, finished in second and will face Ossoff in the runoff on June 20.
Trump himself got involved in the race, making robocalls in opposition to Ossoff and tweeting Tuesday morning that forcing a runoff would ensure victory for the top Republican, a stance he repeated, while taking credit for himself, as news of the results came in early Wednesday morning.
"Despite major outside money, FAKE media support and eleven Republican candidates, BIG "R" win with runoff in Georgia. Glad to be of help!" wrote Trump on Twitter.
The district's congressional seat has been occupied by the GOP since 1979 when eventual Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich first won election to the house of representatives. Gingrich was succeeded by now-Sen. Johnny Isakson, who then ceded the seat to Price upon his run for senate.
Republican backlash against Trump in November led to closer-than-expected presidential results in the district. The president prevailed over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by just 1.5 percent, four years after Republican Mitt Romney eclipsed President Barack Obama by 23 percent.
Democrats, therefore, felt confident that the area, which is home to a number of Atlanta's wealthiest and highly-educated suburbs, could be competitive in the special election.
At 30-years-old, Ossoff rose from near-obscurity to a favored position Tuesday on the back of strong fundraising and endorsements from celebrities and prominent Democrats, including his former boss, Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga. and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. who represents the state's fifth district, just to the south of the sixth.
Republicans pegged Ossoff as inexperienced and portrayed the investigative film producer as a carpetbagger for living outside the district -- a fact Trump tweeted that he "just learned" earlier in the day Thursday. Ossoff, who grew up within district boundaries, has explained that he lives "10 minutes" away in order to facilitate the graduate studies of his girlfriend, an Emory University medical student.
Handel emerged from a pack of Republicans with help in the form of endorsement from former Sen. Saxby Chambliss and on name-recognition from her stint as secretary of state and runs for the party nomination for U.S. senate and the governor's office in 2014 and 2010, respectively.
The election in Georgia is the second of five scheduled special elections to fill current house vacancies. One week ago, Republican Ron Estes defeated Democrat James Thompson in Kansas' fourth congressional district by a margin of less than seven percentage points. Despite the loss, Democrats touted their progress in the district; CIA Director Mike Pompeo won the race as a Republican in November by more than 30 percent prior to his appointment.
Democrat leads Georgia primary but falls short of avoiding runoff