Democrats woke up to disappointment on Wednesday after Republicans claimed victory in the closely watched special election in Georgia’s 6th congressional district. In the most expensive House race of all time, the party had pinned its hopes on Jon Ossoff being able capitalize on national discontent with President Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress.
Ossoff ultimately lost to Karen Handel by nearly 10,000 votes and a tight 3.8-point margin. But another race that got relatively little attention― and millions less in funding― turned out to be even closer.
The special election in South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District, between Democrat Archie Parnell and Republican Ralph Norman, was held to replace Mick Mulvaney, who became the White House’s budget director in February. As the votes were counted in the largely rural district, Parnell lost by just a 3.2-point margin in an area Mulvaney had won by more than 20 points just last year.
Democrats in the state had said if Parnell pulled off what they described as a major upset, the special election could have paved the way for “a massive domino effect” in the state. South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson told HuffPost’s Daniel Marans that, “all it takes is one race.”
“Whether it is a state legislative seat or whether it is a House district ― that changes, or starts to change, the psychology of the Democratic Party in this state, our activists, as well as the independent voters,” he said.
Parnell’s ability to whittle away a heft chunk of support from the GOP in an election with notably lower turnout has pundits saying that Republicans, despite their Tuesday wins, are still in serious trouble.
Dave Wasserman, the U.S. House editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said on Twitter that the results were “about as badly as Republicans could possibly perform in special elections without losing one.”
Handel’s 3.8 percent margin was razor-thin compared to her predecessor Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who won his last race there by a whopping 23 percentage points.
Wasserman noted that the lack of attention on the South Carolina race may have actually helped Parnell, who likely flew under the radar nationally. Ossoff, after nearly winning in the district’s April primary, suffered from a barrage of media coverage and attack ads that may have compelled more Republicans to the polls.
But other politicos pointed out that both parties have recovered from tough special election losses to win a bevy of seats in future general elections.
“This is not the outcome any of us were hoping for,” Ossoff said after the election. “But this is the beginning of something much bigger than us.”