Georgia’s 6th District race heads to runoff following drama-filled night

April 18, 2017, Roswell: Republican candidate Karen Handel works a room full of supporters during her election night viewing party in the special election for Georgia’s 6th Congressional district at the Double Tree Hotel on Tuesday, April 18, 2017, in Roswell. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Final update at 12:15 a.m. 

Roughly five hours after polling locations closed, major networks began projecting that Georgia’s 6th District special election would be heading toward a runoff on June 20.

That means Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel, the race’s top two vote-getters, will have nine more weeks of expensive and heating campaigning before voters will decide who will replace Tom Price, now Trump’s health secretary, as the representative for Atlanta’s affluent, leafy northern suburbs in the House.

Ossoff, a 30-year-old documentary film maker and political novice, told his supporters late Tuesday that a runoff “shattered expectations.” “We will be ready to fight on and win in June if it is necessary,” he said.

Earlier Tuesday evening, former Secretary of State Karen Handel vowed “start the campaign anew” on Wednesday, as her onetime Republican opponents began to coalesce around her. “Beating Ossoff and holding this seat is something that rises above any one person,” she told supporters.

Outside groups poured millions into the nationally-watched contest, which was widely viewed as an early indicator of Trump’s popularity as he closed out his first 100 days in office. Even the president himself weighed in, via a series of attacks against Ossoff on Twitter, and he tweeted again moments after CNN called the race:

As of publishing time, with more than five-sixths of precincts reporting, Ossoff had won 48.6 percent of the vote in the 18-candidate field, and Handel 19.5 percent. Ossoff would have needed more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.

Updated at 11:45 p.m. — Data error slows Fulton returns

A rare malfunction could be the culprit behind a lengthy delay in counting Fulton County ballots, a development that’s so far prevented Georgia election officials from calling the special election in the 6th congressional district.

Workers must now manually screen hundreds of ballots to ferret out the problem, according to our sister station WSB-TV:

 

The Fulton County news was quick to inspire some low-grade Twitter humor (there were plenty of Russia hacking quips), as well as a joking pledge from a Pennsylvania Democrat to introduce a bill in Congress that would send more money to Fulton County to hire more vote counters.

Meanwhile, secretary of state candidate Buzz Brockway used the opportunity to discuss his platform:

Updated at 11:20 p.m. — Handel omits Trump 

If this 6th District race is considered to be first and foremost a referendum on Trump, then consider this:

Our colleague Michelle Baruchman later shared this readout from the Handel watch party:

In a 10-minute-long speech late Tuesday night, Karen Handel shared her vision for Georgia, offered an outstretched arm to her Republican competitors, attacked Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff and defended her “tough, scrappy and stubborn” attitude.

 

But she never mentioned Donald Trump.

 

“Tomorrow, we start the campaign anew,” she said. “Beating Ossoff and holding this seat is something that rises above any one person.”

Updated at 11:00 p.m. — Other candidates struggle to gain traction 

One thing that’s fallen through the cracks of 6th District coverage so far is just how little traction candidates not named Handel or Ossoff were able to garner.

With two-thirds of precincts reporting, the bottom 13 candidates cumulatively netted only about 3 percent of the votes.

Being a Trump loyalist didn’t pay off. Bob Gray made allegiance to Donald Trump the cornerstone of his campaign, and he may have suffered for it. He got about 10 percent of the vote and came under a barrage of criticism over his pro-Trump bona fides. And Bruce LeVell, head of Trump’s diversity coalition, got less than 1 percent of the vote. He also put Trump at the center of his campaign, and even made a last-minute trek to the White House to visit with the president, who didn’t endorse any candidate in the race.

It wasn’t a good day for big-name Republican endorsers. Or for self-funders.

Judson Hill never gained much traction beyond a few Cobb precincts, and his endorsements from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich didn’t get him very far. Dan Moody had an even worse night. The former state senator pumped more than $2 million into his own campaign, had the support of U.S. Sen. David Perdue and some of the most formidable operatives in the race. Yet he still hovered below double-digits.

The other four Democrats in the race barely mustered a few hundred votes between them, even as several vowed there would be no “coronation” for Ossoff. Ron Slotin, the only Democrat with elected experience, earned just a fraction of 1 point.

Updated at 10:18 p.m. — Money, money, money 

Earlier Tuesday evening, Handel mentioned that Ossoff’s lead is “what happens when you have $9 million, most of it from out of Georgia.”

Let’s take a quick look at that money, courtesy of the nonprofit Issue One, which advocates for campaign finance reform:

Ossoff indeed reported fundraising a staggering $8.3 million earlier this month, as we previously reported. Issue One estimates that nearly two-thirds of the money raised across all 18 candidates in the 6th District race went to Ossoff, and two-thirds of that dough was from small donors.

Separately, outside groups have poured just shy of $8 million into the race, roughly 60 percent of which from conservative groups attacking Ossoff, Issue One says. A third of all outside money spent in the race came from the Congressional Leadership Fund, a D.C. super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan. Read their full report here.

Updated at 10:10 p.m. — Runoff predicted 

Ossoff is still easily carrying the 6th District field, but his lead has narrowed, and some analysts are beginning to predict a runoff.

With half of precincts reporting, Ossoff has slightly more than 50 percent of the vote. Handel is at 18 percent.

The major networks have yet to call the race,  but many Republicans whose knuckles were turning white earlier Tuesday night are beginning to show some signs of confidence:

Updated at 9:05 p.m. — Watch party dispatches 

Ossoff’s party is rowdy, with hundreds packing the Crown Ravinia ballroom in Dunwoody as oldies and R & B tunes play in the background. Two giant screens are tuned to CNN, and huge roars erupt every time they show election results with Ossoff in the lead.

Long lines form at the cash bars and many in the crowd are enthusiastic, some a bit overly so. A few quiet skeptics are roaming the room, warning supporters that the long night is just beginning.

Meanwhile, the Karen Handel watch party in Roswell is a quiet affair with a cash bar and a few eats . The one flourish is on the small linen-covered tables. On each one, beneath a bouquet of white carnations, is a strand of pearls. Handel wears them, and has been mocked during the campaign for doing so by one of her male GOP rivals, former state senator Dan Moody. So it’s something of a statement.

Overall, Handel’s party is small, and absent any high-powered Republicans. Two Cobb County commissioners, Roswell Mayor Jere Wood, and a state lawmaker made up the bulk of officialdom. This was not a high-money crowd.

Updated at 8:45 p.m. — Dark signs for the GOP? 

Some more positive signs for Ossoff as early numbers begin to trickle in from Cobb. He’s got 57 percent of that county’s vote so far.

As expected, Cobb resident Judson Hill is leading the Republican side of the field in that county. Overall, former Secretary of State Karen Handel is beginning to pull away from the GOP pack.

Here’s our latest takeout from the race.

At her election night party, Handel told reporters she was proud that the Republican side of the race has been “a competitive campaign.”

“There was no coronation, which is what occurred on the Democratic side,” she said, setting her sights on Ossoff. “Everyone brought great ideas and new perspectives to the table and I appreciated that.”

Meanwhile, Republican political consultant Chip Lake is beginning to project some dark signs for the GOP:

Updated at 8:00 p.m. — First results 

Roughly an hour after polls closed, the first batch of election results were posted to the Georgia secretary of state’s website.

Some early numbers from north DeKalb are positive for Ossoff, who netted more than 71 percent of the nearly 10,000 votes counted. The Democrat was expected to do well in the county, which constitutes the eastern, bluest portion of the 6th District.

Another encouraging tidbit for Ossoff, courtesy of Todd Rehm over at GaPundit:

Handel leads the early Republican field, closely followed by former state Sen. Dan Moody.

Plenty more to come.

Updated at 7:23 p.m. — Handel’s arrival 

Republican candidate Karen Handel arrived at the hotel for her watch party at 7:08 p.m. In a brief conversation with a reporter, Handel expressed confidence in her chances for making a June 20 runoff. Also in attendance: Rob Simms, her former chief of staff when Handel was Georgia’s Secretary of State. Simms is the former executive director of the National Republican Congressional Campaign in D.C.

One more nugget: apparently today is Handel’s birthday.

Updated at 7:00 p.m. Polls closed

Polls have closed everywhere outside of two precincts in Fulton County.

Check out our earlier post on what happens to the ballots after they’re cast.

We’ll be keeping tabs on the returns, but you can also follow along here.

Updated at 6:15 p.m. — Reading the tea leaves

Political analysts are getting wound up about a pair of Sandy Springs districts that could signal a stronger-than-expected Democratic turnout.

The first is a precinct that Democrat Michelle Nunn won with 78 percent of the vote in 2014, meaning that it’s a trove of potential votes for Democrat Jon Ossoff. Turnout in that precinct has nearly doubled on Tuesday, an astounding feat for a special election.

The second is a precinct in a more conservative stretch of Sandy Springs where Nunn only got about a third of the votes. Turnout there is only about half of what it was in 2014.

“That ain’t good,” texted one GOP operative.

Updated at 6:00 p.m. — 6th District geography  

The 6th District encompasses portions of three counties: north Fulton, east Cobb and north DeKalb. Here are a few things to keep an eye on as vote tallies begin to come in.

Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.

North Fulton will likely account for the biggest chunk of the vote, in part because of the city elections that will also be on the ballot. It’s also some of the most conservative turf in the district. Top Republican contenders Handel, Moody and Bob Gray all hail from there and will be duking it out for the county’s allegiance. This county has a reputation for being slow to tally its votes, and two factors tonight indicate it could take longer for Fulton to report: the municipal elections and a judge’s decision to let the county keep two precincts open past 7 p.m. tonight after encountering problems.

As we told you this morning, north DeKalb accounts for the most Democratic-leaning part of the district. It’s where Ossoff grew up, and it’s also where he’ll be looking to rack up votes. There were also fewer early voting sites in that county, which could prompt a turnout spike today. No voting issues have been reported there so far.

The race’s only top candidate to hail from east Cobb, former state Sen. Judson Hill, has struggled to build a sense of momentum in the contest. But there’s an eight-candidate race to replace him in the legislature that’s also on the ballot, which could help drive some turnout. Yesterday, state officials announced they were investigating the theft of voter check-in equipment from a Cobb County precinct manager’s car that they warned could make every Georgia voters’ personal information vulnerable to theft.

Updated at 5:00 p.m. — Breaking down early voting 

As we wait for polls to close, let’s break down what we know about the ballots that were cast ahead of time. Nearly 55,000 people voted early, mostly in-person but some absentee. And whereas early numbers showed Democratic front-runner Ossoff with a notable lead, Republicans appeared to catch up as more early voting sites opened.

The Upshot’s Nate Cohn estimates that at the end of the day, early and absentee voters were “split evenly between the two parties, each at 41 percent, based on whether voters had last participated in a Democratic or Republican primary.” At the same time, he warns that relying on early voting numbers alone is likely misleading. For starters, Republican voters had far more candidates to sift through, so many may have held off on voting until today.

What we do know is that early numbers are good for gouging voter enthusiasm. It’s clear that Democrats are more riled up than they have been in years. As Cohn notes, their numbers are much higher than early voting in the 6th District midterms in 2014. The last time a special election was held in the same congressional district in 1999, it drew more than 79,200 voters.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, has now weighed in on the race for the sixth time in the last three days on Twitter.

The AJC’s Michelle Baruchman contributed to this report.

Reader Comments 0

119 comments
Paul Merck
Paul Merck

Did yall people really just a elect an Al Jazeera TV guy?...

Paul Merck
Paul Merck

Nope, not even from zone 6... lol

Tiana Kelly
Tiana Kelly

Do you even know what that means? I'm guessing not.

Tamye Riggs
Tamye Riggs

Bless your heart. Read the Constitution, Jeanette, and step away from the caps lock.

Ester Garcia
Ester Garcia

Such righteous indignation from the right! I live in Gwinnett County and I supported this campaign as did a lot of other Georgians. When the Koch brothers and dark super pacs donate money to Republican campaigns across state lines you never hear the republicans utter a complaint. Why is that?

Jeanette Vaughn Rogers
Jeanette Vaughn Rogers

THE DEMOCRAT CANDIDATE LIED HE DOESN'T LIVE IN THE 6TH DISTRICT HE SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO RUN FOR THIS DISTRICT ANOTHER DISHONEST DEMOCRAT

Jeri Henson Dies
Jeri Henson Dies

I think Democrats now know they can't concede any race in this time of the Idiot-POTUS. BTW, where was Perez & Bernie? Disgust is beginning to form in the pit of my stomach. \U0001f610

wojopica
wojopica

 our buddy's sister-in-law makes 83 each hour on the internet, she's been unemployed for 5 months.. last month her paycheck was 20399 working on the internet 2 hours per day, go here to this page▬▬▬▬▬☛O❥❥www.buzz-career.com


CSFiles
CSFiles

F or the record, I would like to see how these "Sliding Scaled"come from behind numbers compare to Clinton's election night dramatic fall off in support. Is there a pattern or are hackers smart enough to mixit up.

Rusty Burnham
Rusty Burnham

Watch the libs gobble up all the crumbs....or not!

Michael O'Halloran
Michael O'Halloran

WHY AREN'T THEY ALL CLOSED OR A PEOPLE VOTING IN THE KROGER PARKING LOT AFTER HOURS?

Jon LeDoyen
Jon LeDoyen

Love Dems that complain about "big money" donors. Funny.

CSFiles
CSFiles

60 percent of all outside money went into those Republican attack ads.


DavidATL45
DavidATL45

Most analysts have predicted a run-off.  The most unfortunate part of that is that the fat-bottom liar in the White House waited until the last possible days to involve his weak-brain in the race.  Many wonder whether it's because the Russians were angry with him and didn't tell him what to do - or maybe because his staff is mud-wrestling and couldn't be bothered.  In any case, his last minute involvement was a no-lose for him.  He'll take credit for it going to a run-off.  That's too bad.  He is a fake president bought and paid for by the Russians. 

Susan Mike Wallace-Beaver
Susan Mike Wallace-Beaver

His add says he will work with anyone in Washington. As we know Democrats wont work with anyone so he lies to begin with. Typical politician. And crook

CSFiles
CSFiles

8 years of Republican obstruction makes you an idiot and a hypocrite.


Kaycarole Day
Kaycarole Day

Unlike the current Republican Congress and President you mean??? ROTFL!

AzaleaAnnie
AzaleaAnnie

Documentary filmmaker and political novice........how did Nancy Pelosi and George Soros et al pick this fellow?  Perhaps he needed a job?  

Adrian Medley
Adrian Medley

It's crazy to think a homeless gigolo who does not even hang out in area could be the next representative for 6th district in Georgia

Adrian Medley
Adrian Medley

So what do you do when you have no facts to support your stance, well if your an liberal, you start cursing and insulting people. That way it helps distract from their stupidity.

CSFiles
CSFiles

He would not be allowed to run if it wasn't legal. Would you like to see his birth cert andHgh School diploma. Trump is THAT hated and clearly over his incompetent orange head.


Tiana Kelly
Tiana Kelly

I really thought this was a joke, and now that it isn't, it's even funnier. Y'all poor, pitiful people.

Adrian Medley
Adrian Medley

Oh yeah I just found out it's his girlfriend of 12 years. Not fiancé. Now that's a real top notch guy there.

Kevin Freeman
Kevin Freeman

Yes dear, go fetch his birth certificate like a good doggie.

Serethra Ware
Serethra Ware

Ok president Obama is not in this race so why are you bring him in it!!! President Obama has served this country well for eight years so Arlene Robinson Hayes Murrell and Kevin Freeman go get a life because my president is living his life

Adrian Medley
Adrian Medley

He is shacking up with his "girlfriend" in Atl somewhere. Just a gigolo off the streets ready to represent anyone that will have him.

Arlene Robinson Hayes Murrell
Arlene Robinson Hayes Murrell

He does not live or even vote in the district he is running in! Democrats have sent millions to help him!!!!! I guess he will rent an apartment now for he is suppose to live in the district! Such a dishonest man!!!!

Tiana Kelly
Tiana Kelly

Bahaha. Street Gigolo. Best insult ever for a man educated at London School of Economics. \U0001f644

AzaleaAnnie
AzaleaAnnie

Appears it's legal to run in a district without living there.  But is it smart to vote for someone who doesn't live in your district?   They used to be called Carpetbaggers.........Scarlett would not approve!

CSFiles
CSFiles

@AzaleaAnnie  Just like Republican hypocrites with zero education to not realize Ossoff grew up here and Handel is from Washington, D.C..


Chris Wright
Chris Wright

Looks like Ossoff is exceeding expectations in the live updates I am reading on twitter from folks who follow this.

Larry Walker
Larry Walker

Lives outside this district, can not vote for himself because of this. flooded with money out side this state. -Locals are being led by outside sources. After this election is over, the outside sources will not give a flip what happens to these people.

Chad Kesegi
Chad Kesegi

Larry Walker - Wait… Marching is a bad thing?

Larry Walker
Larry Walker

Keo Blaise If you must use filthy language, please know that it does not make your comment any more impressive. Money from the very corrupt soros and his minions should give you second thoughts too.

Tiana Kelly
Tiana Kelly

Grassroots donations aren't done for favors, Larr.

Larry Walker
Larry Walker

Tiana Kelly You don't really believe these millions of dollars were from grassroot donors, do you? Thank old uncle george soros and his groups.

David Tuttle
David Tuttle

No more so than money from Goldman Sachs execs or other gop donors who are multi billionaires like the guy who funds breitbart and trump.

Larry Walker
Larry Walker

David Tuttle Where did hillary get the bulk of her contributions? Wall Stree multi billionaires and Soros. I can't understand how anyone can defend Soros. He is evil and destructive. A one world order doesn't do it for me.

Tiana Kelly
Tiana Kelly

So, Soros is donating $20 here and there to make Ossoff's average donation $42? Y'all need Jesus, and that's coming from an athiest. Shew.

Larry Walker
Larry Walker

Liz Bracey Oh Liz, how sad for you to look truth in the face, then defend soros then blast me because my comment hit home with you. You need to study up on this man and his past. He is a very bad person.

Larry Walker
Larry Walker

Keo Blaise Are you just naturally nasty? Makes you feel like a big man, huh?

Liz Bracey
Liz Bracey

This obsession with Soros needs to end, you lose any credibility when you say things like this.

CSFiles
CSFiles

You couldn't identify Soros if he woke up in your bed in the morning.Pop Quiz: What country is Soros from?

CSFiles
CSFiles

You are just stupid. Blame an American for America.

Chad Kesegi
Chad Kesegi

@ Larry - I wrote an inquiry consisting of six words and you call that ballistic? OK. Whatever. Talk about another word that doesn't mean what you think it means.

Keo Blaise
Keo Blaise

Larry Walker im shocked that now you care about that kind of Language. I do find it funny that it didnt bother you when Trump said those things.

Marvin Junior
Marvin Junior

They are helping us stop Trump's evil agenda.

Larry Walker
Larry Walker

Chad Kesegi Grow up Chad. You are being silly.

Larry Walker
Larry Walker

Keo Blaise Really??? I never said it didn't bother me when Trump said those things. You are the one saying those things now. So, how much better are you than Trump? I don't use that kind of language and I don't appreciate those who do. It is so ugly and makes no sense.

Larry Walker
Larry Walker

Marvin Junior Care to elaborate on Trump's evil agenda? What are you referring to. The most evil I have seen is coming from the democrat party who keeps throwing tantrums. We are suppose to be a civilized country but watching a political party go into actions much like a communist country is really sad.

Tiana Kelly
Tiana Kelly

You can't attempt to say Dems throw tantrums when there is a large orange toddler in the Oval Office (or Mar-A-Lago, depending on day). You can't talk about civility in politics when the most uncivil man EVER was just elected president. That's some serious double standard crazy right there.

Larry Walker
Larry Walker

Tiana Kelly Do you really mean that Trump has gone out and rioted? Do you really think he has gone out and burned another peprson's building? Do you really mean Trump has gone out and destroyed other people's cars? Did Trump's supporters invade hillary's meetings to cause trouble? I don't think so. If you don't like his color, just close your eyes. You need to learn what the word "tantrum" means on the democrat side of things. Then you will understand what a double standard cause that is some serious kind of crazy.

Keo Blaise
Keo Blaise

Larry Walker you were the one throwing a tantrum about Ossoff in the first place.

Larry Walker
Larry Walker

Keo Blaise Did you see me marching? Did you see me burning buildings? Did you see me destroying cars? Evidently you don't know what a tantrum is.

Larry Walker
Larry Walker

Did you forget you called Trump orange already? How do you like "Kitty Kelly" for a nickname? I like Larr-Bear.

Larry Walker
Larry Walker

Chad Kesegi When you block major highways and destroy property it is no longer a march. It is a riot.

Chad Kesegi
Chad Kesegi

Nice try moving the goalposts. You said marching specifically, so that is clearly what you meant.

Chad Kesegi
Chad Kesegi

@ Larry Walker - It seems to me that you'd find issue with people marching regardless. It's almost as if you can't stand the thought of people standing up for themselves and voicing their first amendment endorsed rights.

Larry Walker
Larry Walker

Frankly Chad, if you can't understand that marching down a busy interstate highway, blocking traffic and being a public nuisance is a stupid thing to do, then just go on and fool yourself all you want. You can voice your first amendment rights, but you can't take those first amendment rights away from others either and you can stand up for yourself but you can't force someone else down. Naturally, I don

Larry Walker
Larry Walker

Chad Kesegi Naturally I don't expect you to understand this because you don't want to .

Chad Kesegi
Chad Kesegi

Larry Walker - But you didn't say anything about that at all. Did you? You asked if you were seen marching, as if marching entails everything that you had elaborated on, which it doesn't. Again. Moving goalposts. Keep trying though. Maybe you'll get a trophy, snowflake.

Larry Walker
Larry Walker

Chad Kesegi You are one crazy buttercup. You don't even make a lick of sense. Take your meds and call it a day.

Chad Kesegi
Chad Kesegi

@ Larry - More like your feeble, time addled brain is incapable of remembering the specifics of comments that you had posted earlier or you are too lazy to re-read for context.

Larry Walker
Larry Walker

Chad Kesegi Chad if you want to march, please march. Thank you, I did re-read my posts and you still don't make sense. You have gotten all wrapped up in your goal posts and whatever else you are trying to prove. Maybe there will be some occasions for you to march since you are so hung up on this word. You evidently didn't read all my comment either, because I mentioned destroying cars and setting businesses on fire.You picked out the word "march" and went totally ballistic. Your party did march down an interstate highway, blocked traffic and made a nuisance of themselves. My feeble addled brain is capable of recognizing a whack job too.