Republican Karen Handel defeats Democrat Jon Ossoff in Georgia special election

SANDY SPRINGS, Georgia — Republican Karen Handel has won the special congressional election in Georgia, fending off a strong challenge from Democrat Jon Ossoff in the heavily Republican House district, according to a projection by NBC News.

Handel's victory in the closely fought contest, which drew national interest and was the most expensive House race ever at over $40 million, comes as good news for President Donald Trump. Democrats had promoted the contest as a referendum on the president.

Rarely, if ever, has a single congressional race attracted this much attention or been freighted with so much meaning.

Under the gaze of the national and international press, voters cast ballots they knew would be interpreted as a referendum on Trump, the GOP healthcare plan winding its way through Congress, and so much more.

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Reaction to Karen Handel's win in Georgia special election
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Reaction to Karen Handel's win in Georgia special election
Things are looking great for Karen H!
Laughing my #Ossoff
#Ossof Race better be a wake up call for Democrats - business as usual isn't working. Time to stop rehashing 2016 and talk about the future.
Congratulations to Karen Handel for winning the Georgia special election. I look forward to working with her in Congress.
Congratulations to @karenhandel on her hard fought victory! #GA6 https://t.co/wCyiizUQLL
Congrats @karenhandel looking forward to working with you in Congress!
Congratulations to @karenhandel!! I look forward to serving with you in the House of Representatives. #MAGA
Once again, we are reminded that excessive money can't make up for bad candidates. Congratulations Karen on a great… https://t.co/TVUiz7UeN3
Congratulations to my friend @karenhandel on a race well run. She's a solid conservative who will be a steadfast voice for GA in DC. #gapol
Congratulations to Karen Handel on her big win in Georgia 6th. Fantastic job, we are all very proud of you!
Thanks to everyone who breathlessly and snarkily proclaimed #GA06 as a "referendum on POTUS @realDonaldTrump". You were right. #winning
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With over $50 million in dollars in spending, the race shattered the record for the most expensive House race ever — by more than $20 million — set in a 2012 Florida race. Final spending numbers are likely to be even higher once the full data is released.

The candidates and their surrogates professed the race was being misread by national pundits.

"They have tried to make this a national election, but it is a local election," said Republican Jere Wood, the seersucker and bow tie clad mayor of Roswell, Handel's home town.

But despite the adage about all politics being local, national issues clearly motivated voters here — just as they do everywhere at a moment of intense polarization and political engagement.

Handel and tens of millions of dollars in ads from GOP super PACs called Ossoff an inexperienced liberal who has more in common with California than Georgia. Ossoff, meanwhile, promised supporters a chance to "make Trump furious" and "send a message that will be heard across the country and around the world."

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Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel throughout their campaigns
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Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel throughout their campaigns
Republican candidate Karen Handel and Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff shake hands after Georgia's 6th Congressional District special election debate at WSB-TV studios in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry
Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff prepares for his Georgia's 6th Congressional District special election debate against Republican candidate Karen Handel at WSB-TV studios in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry
Republican candidate Karen Handel collects herself moments before her Georgia's 6th Congressional District special election debate against Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff at WSB-TV studios in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry
Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff greets supporters while campaigning for Georgia's 6th Congressional District special election in Chamblee, Georgia, U.S., June 19, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry
Republican candidate Karen Handel for Georgia's 6th Congressional District special election talks to supporters during a campaign stop at Santino's Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria in Alpharetta, Georgia, April 17, 2017. There is a special election tomorrow to fill that seat, which opened after Republican Tom Price was appointed as secretary of Health and Human Services. REUTERS/Kevin D. Liles
SANDY SPRINGS, GA - JUNE 20: Chace Mallory, 9, reacts to meeting Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff (R) during his visit to a campaign office on election day as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District on June 20, 2017 in Sandy Springs, Georgia. Mr. Ossoff is running in a special election against the Republican candidate Karen Handel to replace Tom Price, who is now the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The election will fill a congressional seat that has been held by a Republican since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SANDY SPRINGS, GA - JUNE 20: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff speaks during a visit to a campaign office to speak with volunteers and supporters on election day as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District on June 20, 2017 in Sandy Springs, Georgia. Ossoff is running in a special election against the Republican candidate Karen Handel to replace Tom Price, who is now the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The election will fill a congressional seat that has been held by a Republican since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ROSWELL, GA - JUNE 20: Republican candidate Karen Handel is surrounded by media after voting at St. Mary's Orthodox Church of Atlanta in the special election for Georgia's 6th Congressional District on June 20, 2017 in Roswell, Georgia. Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff are running against each other in a special election to fill the congressional seat vacated by Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
SANDY SPRINGS, GA - JUNE 20: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff visits a campaign office to speak with volunteers and supporters on election day as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District on June 20, 2017 in Sandy Springs, Georgia. Ossoff is running in a special election against the Republican candidate Karen Handel to replace Tom Price, who is now the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The election will fill a congressional seat that has been held by a Republican since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ROSWELL, GA - JUNE 20: Jennifer Keeney of Roswell decorates her shirt with political buttons and shows her support of Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff on June 20, 2017 in Roswell, Georgia. Voters head to the polls to cast their vote in Georgia's 6th Congressional District special election. Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff are running against each other in a special election to fill the congressional seat vacated by Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
TUCKER, GA - JUNE 20: 'I'm a Georgia Voter' stickers are available for people to cast their ballots during a special election in Georgia's 6th Congressional District special election at St. Bede's Episcopal Church on June 20, 2017 in Tucker, Georgia. Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff and Republican candidate Karen Handel are running to replace Tom Price, who is now the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The election will fill a congressional seat that has been held by a Republican since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
TUCKER, GA - JUNE 20: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff visits a campaign office to speak with volunteers and supporters on Election Day as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District on June 20, 2017 in Tucker, Georgia. Mr. Ossoff is running in a special election against the Republican candidate Karen Handel to replace Tom Price, who is now the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The election will fill a congressional seat that has been held by a Republican since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ROSWELL, GA - JUNE 19: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff and his fiancee, Alisha Kramer, walk to their vehicle after holding a rally to thank volunteers and supporters on the last night before election day as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District on June 19, 2017 in Roswell, Georgia. Ossoff is running in a special election against the Republican candidate Karen Handel to replace Tom Price, who is now the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The election will fill a congressional seat that has been held by a Republican since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
TUCKER, GA - JUNE 20: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff visits a campaign office to speak with volunteers and supporters on Election Day as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District on June 20, 2017 in Tucker, Georgia. Mr. Ossoff is running in a special election against the Republican candidate Karen Handel to replace Tom Price, who is now the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The election will fill a congressional seat that has been held by a Republican since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ALPHARETTA, GA - JUNE 19: Republican candidate Karen Handel greets people during a campaign stop as she runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District on June 19, 2017 in Alpharetta, Georgia. Handel is running in a special election against the Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff to replace Tom Price, who is now the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The election will fill a congressional seat that has been held by a Republican since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SANDY SPRINGS, GA - JUNE 17: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff greets voters at a cookout as he runs for Georgia's 6th Congressional District on June 17, 2017 in Sandy Springs, Georgia. Ossoff is running in a special election against the Republican candidate Karen Handel to replace Tom Price, who is now the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The election will fill a congressional seat that has been held by a Republican since the 1970s. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 17: Karen Handel, candidate for the Georgia 6th Congressional district, speaks with diners during a campaign stop at Rhea's restaurant in Roswell, Ga., on Monday, April 17, 2017, one day before the special election to fill Tom Price's seat . (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
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Trump has repeatedly weighed in on the race, using Twitter on Tuesday to warn voters that Ossoff "wants to raise your taxes to the highest level and is weak on crime and security."

Earlier in the day, Handel appeared at her polling place to mock Ossoff for the fact that he doesn't even live in the district, and cannot vote for himself. Ossoff was raised here, but currently lives a few miles away so his fiance can be closer to the medical school she attends.

Ossoff spent the day crisscrossing the district to visit polling places and give pep talks to volunteers.

From day one, Ossoff had a very narrow target to hit while Handel had more room for error in this longtime GOP stronghold.

He had to hunt for every Democratic vote in these wealthy suburbs once represented by Newt Gingrich, and needed to pick off some Republicans and Independents too boot.

Handel, meanwhile, just needed to bring home a respectable number of people who spent years voting for Mitt Romney, John McCain, and the dozens of other GOP candidates before Trump came along.

As skeptical as these generally well-educated Republicans have been about Trump, many were even more reticent to vote for a Democrat — even one who presents as moderately and even-tempered as Ossoff.

Voters were excited by the chance to "make a difference," as Kelly Gibson said as held her baby daughter outside a polling place in Roswell Tuesday. "But I'm ready for it be over," she added.

That may be the only sentiment sentiment supporters of both candidates can agree on here after an endless barrage of phone calls, door knocks and TV ads.

Meanwhile, in South Carolina, a special congressional that did not attract nearly as much attention, finished closer than expected. Republican Ralph Norman defeated Democrat Archie Parnell by fewer than 5 percentage points with over 90 percent of the vote counted.

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Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel election day events
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Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel election day events
Jon Ossoff supporters celebrate his lead over his opponent in Georgia's 6th Congressional District special election, at an election night event in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry
ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 20: Georgia's 6th Congressional district Republican candidate Karen Handel addresses supporters gathered at Hyatt Regency at Villa Christina on June 20, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff are running against each other in a special election to fill the congressional seat vacated by Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
Supporters of Democrat Jon Ossoff wait for the polls to come in at Ossoff's election night event in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry
MARIETTA, GA - JUNE 20: Joe Webb of Marietta, a supporter of Republican candidate Karen Handel waves campaign signs outside of the East Cobb Government Center on June 20, 2017 in Marietta, Georgia. Handel and Ossoff are running against each other in a special election to fill the congressional seat vacated by Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
Supporters of Democrat Jon Ossoff wait for the polls to come in at Ossoff's election night event in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry
Republican candidate Karen Handel arrives to vote in Georgia's 6th Congressional District special election at St Mary's Orthodox Church, her polling place in Roswell, Georgia, U.S., June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Bita Honarvar
ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 20: Claire Kiely and others watch election results come in on a television screen setup at the election party for Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff being held at the Westin Atlanta Perimeter North Hotel in the race for Georgia's 6th Congressional District on June 20, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. Mr. Ossoff ran in a special election against his Republican challenger Karen Handel in a bid to replace Tom Price, who is now the Secretary of Health and Human Services. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 20: Campaign workers decorate the ballroom with balloons for Jon Ossoff's election night watch party in Atlanta, Ga., on special election day, June 20, 2017. Democrat Ossoff is facing off against Republican Karen Handel in the special election to fill the seat vacated by current HHS Secretary Tom Price. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 20: People react to election results that show their candidate Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff up against his challenger at an election night party being held at the Westin Atlanta Perimeter North Hotel in the race for Georgia's 6th Congressional District on June 20, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. Mr. Ossoff ran in a special election against his Republican challenger Karen Handel in a bid to replace Tom Price, who is now the Secretary of Health and Human Services. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 20: Jon Ossoff supporters cheer early elections results at Ossoff's election night watch party in Atlanta, Ga., on special election day, June 20, 2017. Democrat Ossoff is facing off against Republican Karen Handel in the special election to fill the seat vacated by current HHS Secretary Tom Price. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 20: People watch election results come in on a television screen setup at the election party for Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff being held at the Westin Atlanta Perimeter North Hotel in the race for Georgia's 6th Congressional District on June 20, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. Mr. Ossoff ran in a special election against his Republican challenger Karen Handel in a bid to replace Tom Price, who is now the Secretary of Health and Human Services. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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