Trump seizes on Republican victory in Georgia to push agenda

SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump knocked Democrats on Wednesday for obstructing his agenda, one day after a fellow Republican won a congressional race in Georgia that was widely seen as a referendum on his young, turbulent presidency.

Former Georgia secretary of state Karen Handel on Tuesday defeated political newcomer Democrat Jon Ossoff, 52 percent to 48 percent. The 4-point win in the most expensive congressional race in history was a blow to Democrats, who sought to wrest control of a suburban Atlanta district that Republicans have held since the 1970s.

The election will not significantly change the balance of power in Washington, where Republicans control the White House and both chambers of Congress.

RELATED: Reaction to Karen Handel's win in Georgia special election

Democrats on Tuesday also lost a special election in neighboring South Carolina, where Republican Ralph Norman easily prevailed over Democrat Archie Parnell in a seat formerly held by Republican Mick Mulvaney, who is now Trump's budget director.

The victories could boost Republicans' confidence as they struggle to advance health and tax legislation that has been bogged down by infighting and investigations into whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russia in last year's presidential election.

"Democrats would do much better as a party if they got together with Republicans on Healthcare,Tax Cuts,Security," Trump said on Wednesday morning in a tweet after the election. "Obstruction doesn't work!"

Republicans can also now breathe a sigh of relief with the knowledge that they can still win in the kind of affluent, educated districts that often favor Democrats - even with a president who has divided voters in their own party.

After Tuesday's win, Handel thanked Trump at her victory rally.

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"Tonight I stand before you, extraordinarily humbled and honored at the tremendous privilege and high responsibility that you ... have given me," Handel told a boisterous crowd that chanted Trump's name.

Ossoff initially campaigned on a promise to "make Trump furious" but more recently refrained from taking on the president as he tried to win over centrist voters. He had enlisted few prominent Democrats to campaign on his behalf.

Both candidates tried to focus on local issues and avoided mentioning Trump, whose approval rating sits at 37 percent, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.

That did not stop Trump from weighing in on Twitter, urging voters to support Handel before the election and celebrating her victory afterward.

"Fantastic job, we are all very proud of you!" he posted Tuesday night.

Spending on the race reached at least $57 million, nearly twice the previous record, according to the Center for Responsive Politics watchdog group. The special election was held to fill the seat vacated by Tom Price after Trump appointed him as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

RELATED: Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel election day events

Democrats said they had turned a conservative stronghold into a competitive district.

"We showed the world that in places where no one thought it was even possible we could fight (that) we could fight," Ossoff told supporters.

Still, the defeat was sure to prompt soul-searching in a party that is shut out of power in Washington and has steadily lost influence at the state level in recent years. Despite spending more than $30 million, Ossoff lost the district by a wider margin than Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

Democrats are 0 for 4 in congressional elections this year, having earlier lost races in Kansas and Montana.

"All the Fake News, all the money spent = 0," Trump wrote on Twitter overnight.

(Additional reporting by Amanda Becker and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)