Republican Karen Handel bested her Democratic rival, Jon Ossoff, in a fight for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District that was both symbolic and expensive. (David Goldman / AP)

Tuesday’s special election between young Democratic upstart Jon Ossoff and GOP challenger Karen Handel for the House seat representing Georgia’s 6th Congressional District — a contest that drew intense interest on a national scale for half a year — has culminated in a close race that was called in Handel’s favor by the day’s end.

[Early Wednesday morning, The New York Times had Handel with 51.9 percent of the vote and Ossoff with 48.1. At that point, 134,595 ballots had been counted for the Republican and 124,893 for the Democrat.]

Since the contest itself represented broader stakes than the single seat in Congress vacated by Tom Price, now President Trump’s secretary of health and human services, it only follows that the result would be read accordingly. The battle between Handel, 55, and Ossoff, 30, had been framed by the mainstream media as a de facto referendum on Trump, as well as a chance for the spectacularly well-funded Ossoff to bring back some firepower to the Democratic side of the aisle, as Politico noted in a report announcing Handel’s win:

With her win, Handel protected Republicans’ 24-seat House majority and their hold on the 6th District in Atlanta’s northern suburbs, a traditionally GOP seat that looked to be slipping from the party when Trump only carried it by 2 points in November. Democrats, spying an opening, poured millions of dollars into the special election when former Rep. Tom Price resigned to join Trump’s cabinet as the secretary of Health and Human Services. Ossoff, a former congressional aide and documentary filmmaker, captured the anti-Trump fervor coursing through the Democratic Party and raised over $23 million for his campaign.

While Handel’s victory only brings the Republican House majority back to its baseline level after the 2016 election, it denied Democrats a momentum boost toward the 2018 midterms and a victory that party activists dearly seek after five months of GOP control in Washington. The GOP has now won each House special election of 2017, after Trump selected a handful of congressmen from conservative seats for his Cabinet — though Republicans had a close call in South Carolina Tuesday night, where Republican Ralph Norman won the state’s 5th District by a surprisingly close 3-point margin.

Another reason for the close scrutiny of Georgia’s 6th District had to do with claims by voting rights watchers that the Republican Party has been using a combination of tactics — ranging from the more roundabout approach of gerrymandering to out-and-out voter suppression strategies — to maintain its hold on power in contested zones across America.

READ: Alliance of Activists Converging in Georgia to Launch Voting Rights Project

Investigative reporter Greg Palast, who for many years has been tracking the voter suppression issue around the country, recently took his questions about reported voter registration and purging problems, and in particular the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, directly to the now victorious Karen Handel while she was courting the voters. That interview ended abruptly, but Palast maintained his watch over the voter rolls.

Late Wednesday night, President Trump phoned Handel, who told a reporter: “He wished me well, said it was a great campaign, that he was very proud of me. He said he knew I was going to win. I’m glad I did.”

In light of the Republican success Tuesday, those hoping for an early sign of a midterm shakeup on Capitol Hill will have to wait until the main event itself in November 2018. Meanwhile, Handel will represent more than her voters, as she’s the first Republican woman from Georgia to win a seat in Congress.

–Posted by Kasia Anderson

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