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Democrat Ossoff Loses Georgia Congressional Race to Anti-LGBT Republican

Jon Ossoff
AP Photo by David Goldman

The race in the Sixth District, with an increasingly liberal population, had raised Democrats' hopes, but they were dashed.

Republican Karen Handel has beaten Democrat Jon Ossoff in the Georgia Sixth Congressional District special election, dealing a blow to Democrats, who had hoped to move the seat into their column.

The Associated Press called the election for Handel shortly after 10 p.m. Eastern. With 81 percent of precincts reporting, she had 52.5 percent of the vote and Ossoff 47.5 percent. They were vying to fill a seat left vacant when Tom Price became secretary of Health and Human Services under Donald Trump. The district, encompassing parts of Atlanta and its northern suburbs, has long been a Republican and conservative stronghold -- the area was once represented by Newt Gingrich -- but has been growing more liberal. This factor had gotten Democrats' hopes up, as had Trump's low approval ratings. The race was "largely seen as a referendum on the first months of Donald J. Trump's presidency," The New York Times notes.

Ossoff, a former congressional aide with a progressive ideology, had just missed winning a majority of the vote in April, forcing him into a runoff with Handel, who came in a distant second in a field of five Democrats, 11 Republicans, and two independents. With no candidate having a majority, the top two, regardless of party, went into the runoff, and Republicans apparently consolidated their support behind Handel.

Handel has a deeply anti-LGBT history and conservative stances on most other issues. As a member of the Fulton County Commission in the early 2000s, she took some LGBT-friendly positions, but soon she became a steadfast opponent of LGBT equality. She took anti-LGBT positions in 2006, when she ran successfully for Georgia secretary of state. In 2010, seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination, she gave an interview asserting her opposition to same-sex marriage, civil unions, domestic-partner benefits, and adoption by gay people.

And last week, approached in a restaurant by a mother who expressed hope that her lesbian daughter will be able to have a family, Handel told the woman, "My faith calls me to a different place on the issue." The exchange can be seen in a video posted by The New Civil Rights Movement.

The race between Ossoff and Handel drew national attention, and Ossoff received many donations from celebrities. It ended up being the most expensive U.S. House race in history. During the campaign, Handel made Ossoff's out-of-state money an issue, along with the fact that he lives outside the district. He grew up in the district, but has been living (barely) outside it to be with his girlfriend, Alisha Kramer, who attends medical school at Emory University. He had pledged to move back to the district when she finishes school.

"Karen Handel didn't argue that the Republican Party's health care bill is a good idea (it's very unpopular) or that tax cuts for millionaires should be the country's top economic priority (another policy that polls dismally)," wrote Vox commentator Matthew Yglesias. "Instead, her campaign and its allies buried Ossoff under a pile of what basically amounts to nonsense -- stuff about Kathy Griffin, stuff about Samuel L. Jackson, stuff about his home being just over the district line, stuff about him having raised money from out-of-state -- lumped together under the broad heading that he's an 'outsider.'"

In South Carolina, in a race that got less national attention than the Georgia one, Republican Ralph Norman defeated Democrat Archie Parnell and three minor-party candidates to win the Fifth Congressional District seat. The seat was left vacant when Mick Mulvaney became director of the Office of Management and Budget. The results were unexpectedly close, with Norman receiving 51.1 percent of the vote and Parnell 47.9 percent, according to the Times.The district, in the northern part of the state, is heavily Republican.

Norman, a real estate developer, has served in the South Carolina House, and his campaign website notes that he has a reputation as that body's most conservative member. He had the endorsement of the National Right to Life Committee and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. Parnell is a businessman and worked as a tax attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice and the House Ways and Means Committee under Democratic leadership.

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