Special election delivers Trump the win he desperately needs

The vote had been closely watched as a barometer of public feeling towards the president

Struggling under the weight of a deepening Russian scandal and special counsel investigation, Donald Trump needed a win. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The victory of Republican candidate Karen Handel in last night’s special election in Georgia could not have come at a better time for US president Donald Trump.

Struggling under the weight of a deepening Russian scandal and special counsel investigation, Donald Trump needed a win.

Karen Handel’s victory delivered it.

The 55-year-old Republican beat Democratic hopeful Jon Ossoff, a relative political unknown, in the battle to replace republican Tom Price who was appointed by Trump to the cabinet earlier this year, winning the seat by 53 per cent to 47 per cent.


The election had been closely watched as a barometer of public feeling towards the president.

The first round of voting last month had delivered a political earthquake when Jon Ossoff, a 30 year-old former congressional aide and film-maker, came within touching distance of winning the staunchly Republican seat.

Opinion polls on the eve of Tuesday’s vote showed the Democratic candidate marginally ahead, but ultimately the Republican party delivered, as Republican voters rallied behind their candidate.

Donald Trump, who was dining with vice president Mike Pence at the vice president’s residence last night when the results started coming in, was not the only person happy with the result. Senior Republican figures in Congress such as house speaker Paul Ryan and house majority leader Kevin McCarthy will be breathing a sigh of relief.

The Republican victory in Georgia will help calm Republican nerves as the scandals around President Trump deepens. With mid-term elections looming next year, the pressing question for Republicans is whether support for the President will help or hinder their chances of re-election.

Handel’s win has shown that, despite the US president’s historically low ratings, the Trump effect is not impinging on Republicans’ chances at the ballot boxes.

Part of this is down to Handel’s campaign.As a well-known figure in her local area, Handel was careful not to align herself to closely with Trump and instead focus on local issues, highlighting, for example, the fact that her opponent lived outside the district. Even as the United States remains gripped and divided by the drama of the Trump presidency, her victory suggests that all politics is still local.

But Handel’s success is not an anomaly. Despite the fact that Democrats have performed better than expected in traditionally Republican strongholds since Trump’s election, the Republican party has won all four special elections that have been held this year to fill the seats vacated by Republican congressmen appointed to the Trump administration.

This is deeply worrying for Democrats.

The battle for the sixth congressional seat in Georgia was one of the most expensive campaigns in history with more than $50 million spent on the election, mostly from out-of-state donors hoping for a Democrat win.

The party’s failure to win the affluent district of northern Atlanta, an area which Trump only barely won in last year’s election, will be disconcerting for Democrats who are banking on mopping-up some of the anti-Trump Republican vote in next year’s mid-term elections. Having thrown unprecedented levels of money and resources into the Ossoff campaign, Democrats will be unable to replicate this next year.

Following the initial wave of support and renewed interest in democratic politics sparked by President Trump’s unexpected victory in November, reflected in movements such as the Women’s March, Democrats now have the challenge of capitalizing on that renewed energy.

As the party seeks to regain control of the House of Representatives next year, it needs to move beyond anti-Trump rhetoric and create a coherent political message. Seth Moulton, a democratic congressman from Massachusetts echoed the thoughts of many, tweeting: “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.”

In the immediate term, the most significant impact of the Handel victory may be that it gives Republicans the space and confidence to move forward with their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare with a new healthcare bill expected as early as next week.

For the president, it may remove some of the pressure that was beginning to build from within his own party as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation gathers pace. With Republicans in Congress ultimately controlling whether Mr Trump will face impeachment proceedings during his presidency, Tuesday night’s victory is likely to be an important milestone in Trump’s relationship with his party.