A novice Democratic candidate has weathered attacks from President Donald Trump to finish well ahead of his Republican rivals in a much-watched congressional race in the US state of Georgia.
Jon Ossoff came out top in a crowded field of 18 candidates competing to fill a vacant seat in the House of Representatives.
However, with 185 of the 210 precincts reported, Ossoff held only 48.3 percent of the vote – just short of the 50 percent he needed to become the first Democrat to represent Atlanta’s affluent northern suburbs since the 1970s.
“This is already a victory for the ages. We have defied the odds, we have shattered expectations,” Ossoff told a cheering crowd of supporters.
Will there be a runoff?
Yes, against Republican Karen Handel on June 20.
Handel is in second place with 19.5 percent of the vote.
The winner will replace Republican Tom Price, who stepped down to serve as Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Georgia congressional election between Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel heading to June 20 runoff. https://t.co/mabkRnIdPi— The Associated Press (@AP) 19 avril 2017
With few other events on the political calendar, the race is being seen as a bellwether of the national mood during Trump’s turbulent first few months in office.
Republicans have controlled the seat for decades, but Trump only won it by one percentage point in last November’s presidential election.
Ossoff “a unifying figure”
Analysts say Democrats found a “unifying figure” in Ossoff. The 30-year-old documentary film maker campaigned on a promise to “Make Trump Furious.”
Ossoff benefited from a fractured Republican field of 11 candidates. Some emphasized their loyalty to Trump while others kept their distance.
Handel did not mention Trump during a ten-minute speech on Tuesday night.
Republican campaigners painted Ossoff as a political beginner who does not live in the area he aims to represent. Ossoff grew up in the district and says he will move back if he wins.
Despite major outside money, FAKE media support and eleven Republican candidates, BIG “R” win with runoff in Georgia. Glad to be of help!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 19 avril 2017
What would a Democrat win in Georgia mean for the Republicans nationally?
An Ossoff win would not tip the balance of power in Washington, where Republicans control the White House and both chambers of Congress.
However, analysts say it could weaken the already shaky hold Trump has on his fellow Republicans by encouraging lawmakers to distance themselves from him.
Research by Reuters/Ipsos suggests Trump’s approval rating has not topped 50 percent since he took office on January 20.