To be continued: Georgia special election ends in runoff, as Jon Ossoff comes shy of majority

The race goes on — but Jon Ossoff and Democrats have plenty to celebrate

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published April 19, 2017 10:48AM (EDT)

Jon Ossoff speaks to volunteers in his Cobb County campaign office, March 11, 2017.   (AP/Bill Barrow)
Jon Ossoff speaks to volunteers in his Cobb County campaign office, March 11, 2017. (AP/Bill Barrow)

Democrats should rejoice. A pro-choice Democrat just forced a runoff in a dark red district in the South, despite a last-minute assault by President Donald Trump.

Republicans should be running scared.

The last congressional election in Georgia's 6th Congressional District, the Republican incumbent won by more than 20 percentage points. On Tuesday, however, voters in the affluent Atlanta suburbs turned out for a special election to hand a 30-year-old Democrat a whopping 30-point lead over his closest competitor.

While Jon Ossoff did not get the more than 50 percent of the vote to win the election outright on Tuesday, the young Democrat is headed to a June 2 runoff against top Republican vote-getter Karen Handel. The former Georgia Secretary of State is most infamous for being forced to resign from the Susan G. Komen after seeking to cut funding to Planned Parenthood.

"This is already a victory for the ages," Ossoff told supporters at an election night watch party shortly before midnight.

It appears that Ossoff's final vote tally will be as drastic an improvement over previous Democratic congressional candidate similar as that seen by the Democratic candidate in last week's special election in Kansas.

“The intensity and the momentum here is driven by the grassroots at the local level,” Ossoff recently told Salon's Simon Maloy.

Like in Kansas, Tuesday's special election was widely viewed as a referendum on Trump. Although Mitt Romney won Georgia the district with 61 percent of the vote to Barack Obama’s 37 percent in 2012, Trump carried the district only by 1.5 percentage points over his rival Hillary Clinton.

In a further bad sign of Trump's unpopularity in the district, the ultra-wealthy Republican who closely aligned himself with the president, Bob Gray, performed below his polling average leading into the election.

Instead, Gray promised to rally around the leading Republican candidate:

Democrats rejoiced at Ossoff's showing.

“Jon Ossoff’s first-place finish in ruby-red Georgia shows the huge opportunities for progressive candidates across the country," said Progressive Change Campaign Committee's Adam Green said in a statement.

The progressive activist group hailed "Ossoff’s first-place finish tonight [as] a huge triumph for the Resistance and for progressives." The group, which launched a $250,000 campaign ad buy focused on Trumpcare, pointed to the president's failed attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act as a major catalyst for Ossoff's surge of support.

"Voters are rejecting Trump and his policies, especially the highly unpopular GOP-led health care repeal proposals like Trumpcare," MoveOn executive director Anna Galland said in a statement. "MoveOn members are fired up — and if Ossoff doesn’t top 50 percent tonight, we’re ready to help him finish this race with a victory in June."

Democrats in the state also flipped one of two Georgia state legislative seats voted on Tuesday.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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