Democrats Fail to 'Flip the Sixth' in Georgia Special Election

Democrat Jon Ossoff falls short of 50%, will face Republican Karen Handel in June runoff

Jon Ossoff / Getty Images
April 19, 2017

Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff fell short of the 50 percent threshold needed in Tuesday's special election to avoid the runoff election that will now be held two months from now.

Ossoff, as expected, was the top vote-getter by a wide margin in the special election to fill Georgia's Sixth Congressional District, but he pulled in shy of the 50 percent mark that would have won him the seat outright.

When the results were projected by CNN and others early Wednesday morning with 95 percent of the votes counted, Ossoff was at 48.6 percent.

Coming in behind Ossoff in the eighteen candidate race was Republican Karen Handel, Georgia's former secretary of state who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2010. Handel pulled away from the crowded Republican field, receiving about 20 percent of the vote, and will now face Ossoff one-on-one in June.

Missing from Tuesday's vote tally is a vote from Ossoff, who was running to represent Georgia's Sixth Congressional District despite the fact that he is not currently one of its residents.

Handel said before the results of the election were known that she was proud that there was a "competitive campaign" between Republican candidates, and criticized Ossoff as the beneficiary of a "coronation."

"There was no coronation, which is what occurred on the Democratic side," Handel said. "Everyone brought great ideas and new perspectives to the table and I appreciated that."

After the election results became clear, Handel called for Republicans to come together for June's election. With nearly all the votes counted, the New York Times' Nate Cohn noted that Republican candidates collectively received more than 50 percent of the vote.

"Tomorrow, we start the campaign anew," she said. "Beating Ossoff and holding this seat is something that rises above any one person."

Ossoff's failure to settle the election on Tuesday comes despite over $8 million that was raised by his campaign, which was seen by Democrats as the first chance to make an electoral statement after the defeat it was dealt last November.

Republicans seized on Ossoff's record-breaking fundraising numbers by pointing out that the money came almost entirely from out-of-state sources, such as Hollywood celebrities Chelsea Handler and Rosie O'Donnell.

Money was not the only form of support that came from outside of Georgia. MSNBC's Kasie Hunt reported on Monday that volunteers were traveling from as far as Berkeley, California, to help Ossoff break 50 percent in the special election.

Republicans will likely target Ossoff over the next two months with the same playbook it used against him in recent weeks.

The 30-year-old former congressional staffer for Rep. Hank Johnson (D., Ga.), who once compared Jewish people to termites, has been portrayed as an inexperienced "liberal" who will "rubber stamp Pelosi's extreme agenda."

President Donald Trump called Ossoff a "super liberal" on Twitter and recorded a robocall to voters in the district that was used in the campaign's final days.

"Only you can stop the super liberal Democrats and Nancy Pelosi's group, and in particular, Jon Ossoff," Trump said in the call. "If you don't vote tomorrow, Ossoff will raise your taxes, destroy your health care, and flood our country with illegal immigrants."

Trump tweeted early Wednesday morning that he was "glad to be of help" in the election.

Ossoff will probably face an onslaught from Handel, who has been forced to spend the previous months grappling with members of her own party.

Ossoff was caught misleading voters about his resumé by stating that he had five years of experience as a national security aide with "top-secret clearance." He had clearance for just five months.

Ossoff has also been attacked by Democratic opponents in the race for claiming to be a small business owner even though the business he owns—an investigative film company that produces videos for Al Jazeera—is located overseas in Great Britain.

Polling experts have cautioned against using Ossoff's margin of victory on Tuesday as an indication that he would be successful in June's runoff against Handel.

"Even if Ossoff finishes just a point or two shy of 50 percent, and Democrats finish with more votes than Republicans overall, he won’t have any guarantees in the runoff," wrote FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver, who last week criticized Ossoff for "making shit up."

Political forecasters at Cook Political Report initially rated the June race between Ossoff and Handel as a toss-up.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a conservative super PAC that spent millions of dollars opposing Ossoff, said in a statement on Wednesday night that "the myth of Jon Ossoff died" on Tuesday and pointed out that Ossoff performed at levels consistent with the 2016 election.

"The myth of Jon Ossoff died tonight," said Corey Bliss, the group's executive director. "Despite a heavy advertising advantage and a national stream of unlimited resources, Jon Ossoff’s Hollywood-focused campaign finished no better than Hillary Clinton's."