A voter leaves a polling site after casting a ballot in a special election in Marietta, Ga., Tuesday, April 18, 2017.
Democrat Jon Ossoff's 48.1% bested Hillary Clinton's 46.8%, but he failed to reach the requisite 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff. But an Ossoff win could weaken Trump's already shaky hold on his fellow Republicans in the House by encouraging those in competitive districts to distance themselves from the president.
Ossoff has drawn volunteers and donors from out of state who see the race as a way to strike a blow against Trump.
But political commentators are united in surprise at the way that this race turned from a strong Republican seat to a Democrat barely coming up short of 50 percent just months after Donald Trump won his race for president.
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"You're looking at the top Republican vote-getter, y'all", said Handel, to cheers, claiming her spot in the slimmed down race a little after 11 p.m.
The president understood the stakes of the second congressional vote since his administration took office, a week after Kansas' 4th District narrowly replaced CIA Director Mike Pompeo with another Republican. It didn't happen on Tuesday night - and now Democrats will have to wait nearly two months to see if they can start to build momentum for the November 2018 midterms.
Mr Ossoff and Ms Handel will now participate in a June 20 runoff. We all have to rise above it, that it is about the district that has a long legacy of Republican leadership, from my good friend current HHS Secretary Tom Price, to Senator Isakson and former Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Trump took late interest in the election to fill the old House seat of Health & Human Services Secretary Tom Price in recent days, tweeting repeatedly about it and recording a robocall calling on Republicans to turn out for the race.
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DuBose Porter, chairman of the Georgia Democratic Party, said the 6th District offers the flawless setting for state and national Democrats to prove their momentum heading into 2018. But it will require picking up more than 20 seats and winning over droves of voters like those in the affluent, well-educated Georgia district that spans Atlanta's northern suburbs.
Political observers were surprised a Democrat could poll so well in the district, although demographics have been changing.
"Handel's challenge is to mobilise supporters of the other Republicans". They said it couldn't be done.
"There is no doubt this is already a victory for the ages", Ossoff told his supporters, praising them for a campaign that has collected more than $8.3 million, most of it from well beyond Georgia.
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