- Associated Press - Monday, June 26, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Republican winner of the most expensive House race ever took her seat representing Atlanta’s outskirts Monday evening, along with a South Carolina Republican who claimed a narrower-than-expected victory to retain a strongly Republican seat.

The dual swearing-in ceremony returned Republicans to full strength in the chamber at 241 seats after the party won four special elections to replace GOP lawmakers who left the House to join President Donald Trump’s Cabinet.

Karen Handel won the closely watched Georgia election by a 52-48 margin last week after a hard-fought, saturation-level campaign. Handel’s opponent, first-time candidate Jon Ossoff, raised $23 million for the race and narrowly led in most polls.

“This is an extraordinary honor and the greatest privilege that I think I have ever had,” Handel said in brief remarks after receiving the oath of office from Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. She vowed to be “a good co-worker and friend to each of you.”

Republican Ralph Norman, a staunch conservative, had a 3 percentage point victory last week in a far quieter South Carolina race in a district that went for President Donald Trump last year by 18 percentage points. Norman said he was joining the House “at a special time in history.”

Norman told his colleagues that “we’ve got such an opportunity and I look forward to playing a part in working with you to move this country forward.”

Republicans retained all four House seats vacated by lawmakers this year to join the Trump administration, but in every case Democrats outperformed the recent trends in the districts, which were all solidly Republican. The Georgia seat went only narrowly for Trump last year, even though it strongly backed Tom Price, who resigned to become secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Money poured into the Georgia race, which Republicans won after running ads linking Ossoff to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. After Handel’s victory, some Democrats called for the party to drop Pelosi as its leader.

Handel had narrowly lost a 2010 race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

Norman, a former state lawmaker, ran a campaign aligning himself with Trump and is expected to join the House Freedom Caucus, a group of hard-right lawmakers who are sometimes a thorn in the side of GOP leaders. His predecessor, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney helped found the group.

The only remaining House vacancy is a Los Angeles seat formerly held by Democrat Xavier Becerra, who resigned in January to become California’s attorney general. Democratic state Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez easily retained the seat for the party in an election earlier this month, and will assume his seat after completing some remaining state business.

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