As the special election for a Georgia congressional seat that attracted so much national attention this week heads into a runoff, President Trump further inserted himself into the race, a move welcomed by the Republican candidate.
Trump called former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel on Wednesday morning, congratulating her on making it to the runoff with Democrat Jon Ossoff. The field was crowded with nearly a dozen Republican candidates, but Handel was the highest finisher among that group with 20 percent of the vote. Ossoff finished just shy of the 50 percent mark that would have avoided the runoff and given Democrats the Sixth District seat for the first time in decades.
"Dems failed in Kansas and are now failing in Georgia," tweeted Trump on Wednesday morning, referencing last week's special election in Kansas that resulted in a narrow Republican win. "Great job Karen Handel! It is now Hollywood vs. Georgia on June 20th."
Trump first entered the fray late Tuesday, urging voters to head to the polls a few hours before they closed. In a series of media appearances Wednesday morning, Handel said she welcomed the White House's support as the race heads toward a June 20 runoff.
"The president was beyond gracious and encouraging," said Handel when asked on Fox News what Trump had said on their call, "and I appreciated it so much. And he specifically talked about strength under pressure, and I was grateful for that as well."
"I would hope so," said Handel when asked by CNN whether Trump would campaign with her. "All Republicans, it's all hands on deck for us, we know what's at stake here. I don't think this is about any one person, we all have to rise above it, that it is about the district that has a long legacy of Republican leadership from my good friend current [Health and Human Services] Secretary Tom Price to Senator [Johnny] Isakson and former Speaker Newt Gingrich. We are all, including the very good 10 other Republican candidates, we are all going to be united because we know what the job is over the next 60 days."
Tuesday's results have been seen as at least a slight rebuke on the White House. "Trump Loyalists flail in Georgia special election," read an Atlanta Journal-Constitution headline. Political reporter Greg Bluestein wrote in the piece that, "the pro-Trump route was always a risk in Georgia's 6th District, an establishment-friendly stretch that he carried by less than 2 points in November." Conservative radio host and Georgia resident Erick Erickson concurred, writing Tuesday night that, "The more closely aligned a candidate was with President Trump, the worse that candidate did."
Handel was confident that Sixth's voters would rally to her by the runoff.
"What I hear out across the district is this," said Handel in her Wednesday interview with CNN. "The people of this district want a congressman that they know, that they trust, someone who has a real track record. They're not interested in someone who doesn't even live in the district, someone who has a really thin resume and very lacking in experience."
Ossoff grew up in the district but currently lives with his girlfriend, who is enrolled in medical school at Emory University. He was unable to vote for himself in Tuesday's election.
Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez projected confidence in Ossoff's ability to pull out the runoff in June.
"Organize," said Perez when asked on MSNBC Wednesday what Democrats would be doing between now and June 20 to win the seat. "And that's exactly what we're doing. We're going to be out on the street. There's still opportunity out there. There's still voters who didn't vote before that are eligible to vote now. We've identified them, and we will be out there knocking on their doors and they'll see your vote can make the difference because we're already at 49 percent when you look at both John Ossoff and the three Democrats who got roughly one percent of the vote between them and so I'm actually very optimistic. You see this energy everywhere across America. I've been traveling across the country this week and the energy is palpable. We're going to translate that energy into more votes."
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the race as a toss up.