SANDY SPRINGS — The high hopes Democrats had of striking a political blow to President Trump in the battle for Georgia’s open congressional seat were shattered Tuesday.
Republican Karen Handel emerged victorious in the runoff race for the U.S. House seat in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District — beating back the “Resistance” movement and defending a seat in the wealthy Atlanta suburbs that Republicans have held for nearly 40 years.
Mrs. Handel, a former secretary of state, was declared the winner by networks and the Associated Press more than three hours after the polls closed at 7 p.m., overcoming a well-financed challenge from Democrat Jon Ossoff in the most expensive U.S. House race in history.
Mrs. Handel praised her supporters and said she hopes to carry on the legacy of her predecessors in that district: Newt Gingrich, Johnny Isakson and Tom Price, who vacated the seat to become Mr. Trump’s health secretary.
“These men, these statesmen, have created very very big shoes to fill and I will do my level best to live up to the standard that they have set,” she said. “My promise is to work every single day, relentlessly to make our state and this country a better place.”
With 207 of the 208 precincts counted, Mrs. Handel defeated Mr. Ossoff, a former congressional aide and documentary filmmaker, by a 52.6 percent to 47.4 percent margin.
At his election night rally, Mr. Ossoff told his supporters that he had called to congratulate Mrs. Handel, and thanked them, saying this is the “beginning of something much bigger than us.”
“The more than 12,000 of you who as darkness has crept across this planet have provided a beacon of hope for the people here in Georgia, and for people around the world,” he said, going on to take a veiled shot at Mr. Trump.
“At a time when politics has been dominated by fear, hatred and scapegoating and division this community stood up … and you carried us on your shoulders and we showed the world that in places where no one thought it was possible to fight, we could fight,” he said.
Billed as a referendum on the opening months of the Trump presidency, more than 240,000 people had voted, signaling that Democrats and Republicans remain highly engaged in politics after the November presidential election.
Mr. Trump still cast his shadow on the race even after it was over.
In her victory speech, Mrs. Handel thanked a series of national politicians and offered “special thanks to the president of the United States of America.” At that, the crowd at her Atlanta headquarters cheered and broke into chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump!”
Mr. Trump himself went on Twitter and wrote: “Congratulations to Karen Handel on her big win in Georgia 6th. Fantastic job, we are all very proud of you!”
But the built-in advantages in this district were too much for the Ossoff camp to overcome. The defeat marked the fourth time that Democrats have been able to claim only a moral victory in a special election to fill a House seat vacated by Trump Cabinet appointees.
“Nancy Pelosi threw the kitchen sink at her, yet Karen still came out on top and ready to fight for Georgia in Congress,” said Steve Stivers, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
“For all the Democrats’ bluster and despite pouring over $30 million into this race, I couldn’t be more proud to help keep this seat in Republican hands,” he said.
Mr. Ossoff raised more than $23 million for the race, while Mrs. Handel raised $4.5 million. They both received help from the national parties and outside groups, including pro-Handel political action committees that spent millions reminding voters that Mr. Ossoff lived outside the district and warning that he would be as a tool for Mrs. Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat who leads the party in the House.