Jon Ossoff, a young Democrat, nearly pulled off what could have a been a stunning victory in a special congressional election in a heavily Republican district in Georgia that had turned into something of a referendum on President Donald Trump.
Ossoff won 48.3% of the votes, more than all the other candidates, but had needed to win 50% for an outright win. He now faces a runoff in June, against one Republican candidate and not 11 that were in fray this time, which may not be as generous to him.
The special election — sort of a bye-election — was held to replace the congressional district’s last incumbent Tom Price who vacated the seat when he joined Trump’s team as his secretary for health and human services.
“This is already a remarkable victory,” Ossoff, a 30-year-old former congressional aide and documentary filmmaker, said in a statement. “We defied the odds, shattered expectations, and now are ready to fight on and win in June.”
But Trump, who had seemed personally invested, claimed credit and called the result a victory in a post on Twitter: “Despite major outside money, FAKE media support and eleven Republican candidates, BIG ‘R’ win with runoff in Georgia. Glad to be of help!”
Trump had indeed seemed aware the election was as much about him as those in the fray, and had seemed engaged in a stream of tweets through the day on Tuesday as the district voted. “Democrat Jon Ossoff would be a disaster in Congress,” he tweeted early in the morning. “VERY weak on crime and illegal immigration, bad for jobs and wants higher taxes. Say NO.”
The White House, which monitored the elections closely, pushed back against the suggestion it was a referendum on Trump. “I wouldn’t use the word referendum,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, adding, “I think (Trump) hopes to have a Republican elected to that seat, and hopefully it will be someone to follow in Tom Price’s footsteps and be a leader from that district.”