Georgia special election heads for runoff between Ossoff, Handel

DUNWOODY, Ga. (Reuters) - A novice Democratic candidate weathered attacks from President Donald Trump and finished well ahead of his Republican rivals in a much-watched Georgia congressional race on Tuesday, but appeared to fall short of the majority he needed to win outright.

Democrat Jon Ossoff ended up as the top vote getter in a crowded field of 18 candidates vying to fill a vacant seat in the House of Representatives. But with 185 of 210 precincts reporting, he held 48.3 percent of the vote - just shy of the 50 percent he needed to become the first Democrat to represent Atlanta's affluent northern suburbs since the 1970s.

That would tee up a June 20 runoff with Republican Karen Handel, who was headed to a second-place finish with 19.5 percent of the vote.

RELATED: A look at the Georgia 6th Congressional District special election

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ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 15: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff arrives to greet supporters at a campaign office as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District in a special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services on April 15, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The election on April 18th will fill the congressional seat that has been held by a Republican since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 15: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff greets supporters at a campaign office as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District in a special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services on April 15, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The election on April 18th will fill the congressional seat that has been held by a Republican since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 15: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff greets Saad Ahsan at a campaign office as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District in a special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services on April 15, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The election on April 18th will fill the congressional seat that has been held by a Republican since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 15: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff greets supporters at a campaign office as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District in a special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services on April 15, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The election on April 18th will fill the congressional seat that has been held by a Republican since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 15: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff greets Samira Ahsan and her mother Sharifa Jahan at a campaign office as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District in a special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services on April 15, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The election on April 18th will fill the congressional seat that has been held by a Republican since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 15: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff greets supporters at a campaign office as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District in a special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services on April 15, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The election on April 18th will fill the congressional seat that has been held by a Republican since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 16: A campaign sign for Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff is seen among other candidates' signs as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District in a special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services on April 16, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The election on April 18th will fill the congressional seat that has been held by a Republican since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 16: A campaign sign for Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff is seen among other candidates' signs as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District in a special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services on April 16, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The election on April 18th will fill the congressional seat that has been held by a Republican since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 15: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff and his girlfriend Alisha Kramer greet supporters at a campaign office as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District in a special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services on April 15, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The election on April 18th will fill the congressional seat that has been held by a Republican since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 16: A campaign sign for Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff is seen among other candidates' signs as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District in a special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services on April 16, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The election on April 18th will fill the congressional seat that has been held by a Republican since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 15: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff arrives with his girlfriend, Alisha Kramer, to greet supporters at a campaign office as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District in a special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services on April 15, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The 6th Congressional District hasn't been held by a Democrat since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 15: Campaign fliers are seen at an office for Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District in a special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services on April 15, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The 6th Congressional District hasn't been held by a Democrat since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 15: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff greets supporters at a campaign office as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District in a special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services on April 15, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The 6th Congressional District hasn't been held by a Democrat since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 15: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff speaks with the media as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District in a special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services on April 15, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The 6th Congressional District hasn't been held by a Democrat since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 15: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff greets supporters at a campaign office as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District in a special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services on April 15, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The 6th Congressional District which hasn't been held by a Democrat since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 15: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff greets supporters at a campaign office as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District in a special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services on April 15, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The 6th Congressional District which hasn't been held by a Democrat since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 15: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff greets supporters at a campaign office as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District in a special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services on April 15, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The 6th Congressional District which hasn't been held by a Democrat since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 15: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff greets supporters at a campaign office as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District in a special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services on April 15, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The 6th Congressional District which hasn't been held by a Democrat since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 15: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff speaks to supporters at a campaign office as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District in a special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services on April 15, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. The 6th Congressional District hasn't been held by a Democrat since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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With few other events on the political calendar, the race was 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 1 percentage point in last November's presidential election.

"This is already a victory for the ages. We have defied the odds, we have shattered expectations," Ossoff told a cheering crowd of supporters.

The winner replaces Republican Tom Price, who stepped down to serve as Trump's Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Democrats, searching for answers at a time when they are shut out of power in Washington, found a unifying figure in Ossoff, a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker who campaigned on a promise to "Make Trump Furious." He raised more than $8 million in the first three months of the year, much of it from out of state, and drew volunteers from across the country.

SEE ALSO: Obama considered Clinton's mishandled email scandal 'political malpractice,' says new book

Ossoff benefited from a fractured Republican field of 11 candidates, some of whom emphasized their loyalty to Trump while others kept their distance. Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, did not mention Trump during a 10-minute speech on Tuesday night, according to local media.

National Republican groups spent millions of dollars painting Ossoff as a neophyte who does not live in the area he aims to represent. Trump himself targeted Ossoff with robocalls and a barrage of Twitter messages.

"BIG 'R' win with runoff in Georgia. Glad to be of help!" he wrote late on Tuesday.

RELATED: US representatives from Georgia

Ossoff grew up in the district and says he will move back if he wins.

An Ossoff win would not tip the balance of power in Washington, where Republicans control the White House and both chambers of Congress. But it could weaken the already shaky hold Trump has on his fellow Republicans by encouraging lawmakers to distance themselves from him.

SEE ALSO: Bryan Stevenson: America's failure to deal with history of slavery and Jim Crow has manifested

Trump's approval rating has not topped 50 percent since he took office on Jan. 20, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.

The party avoided embarrassment last week when it narrowly held a conservative Kansas seat vacated when Trump tapped Republican Representative Mike Pompeo to head the Central Intelligence Agency.

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