A special election in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District failed to produce an outright winner Tuesday, forcing a June 20 runoff between upstart Democrat Jon Ossoff and former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel.
Ossoff garnered 48 percent of the vote, falling just short of the majority threshold required in the so-called “jungle primary.” Handel was the top GOP vote-getter at 20 percent, finishing comfortably ahead of technology executive Bob Gray, who received 11 percent of the vote, and former State Senators Judson Hill and Dan Moody, who each received 9 percent of the vote.
“We are going to rally around Karen Handel,” Gray tweeted late Tuesday as it became clear he would not make the runoff. “We wish her Godspeed.”
The winner of the runoff between Handel and Ossoff will succeed Tom Price, who resigned to become Trump's health and human services secretary.
Ossoff, a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker and former congressional aide, had sought to parlay opposition to President Donald Trump into an outright victory that would have emboldened Democrats ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. His run attracted more than $8 million in donations, which largely came from outside the state.
Republicans nationally and in Georgia acknowledged before polls opened that Ossoff would top the slate of 11 Republicans, five Democrats and two independents who appeared together on one primary ballot. Earlier Tuesday, the GOP hit Ossoff hard for living outside the district, and sought to portray him as a conservatives' nightmare who would increase taxes and take away guns.
"These liberal Democrats failed to inspire voters with a candidate who couldn’t even vote for himself, received 97 percent of his donations from outside the district, and consistently lied about his own weak resume," the Republican National Committee said in a statement.
Ossoff acknowledged Tuesday that he lives just south of the district, in Atlanta, so that his girlfriend is close to her work at Emory University's medical complex.
Republican groups ran a blitz of ads trying to tie Ossoff to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; a political action committee backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. has spent more than $2 million on those and other attacks.
Trump himself posted several messages on Twitter encouraging Republicans to vote in the special election and recorded a get-out-the-vote call, saying “"Liberal Democrats from outside of Georgia are spending millions and millions of dollars trying to take your Republican congressional seat away from you. Don’t let them do it.”
Trump posted another tweet early Wednesday, saying “Despite major outside money, FAKE media support and eleven Republican candidates, BIG "R" win with runoff in Georgia. Glad to be of help!”
National attention on the Georgia race, already significant, intensified after last week's closer-than-expected GOP victory in a Kansas special House election. Trump did not perform as well as other Republicans last November in the Georgia district, an affluent, well-educated swath of Atlanta’s northern suburbs filled with the kind of voters Democrats need if they hope to reclaim a House majority next year.
Handel has maintained her distance from Trump, rarely discussing him unless asked.
Polling day took a bizarre turn in the district when key electronic voting logs were swiped from a Cobb County poll worker’s pickup truck. The chairman of the county’s Republican Party told Fox News the theft raised the specter of fraud. However, there were no reports of voting irregularities at Cobb County polling places Tuesday.
Fox News’ Joseph Weber and Christopher Wallace contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.