ANALYSIS: Georgia special election result lets both sides claim victory

PHOTO: Candidates for Georgias Sixth Congressional seat Karen Handel, left, and Jon Ossoff, right. PlayAP/Reuters
WATCH Georgia congressional race heads to runoff

Democrat Jon Ossoff failed to deliver a knockout punch Tuesday night in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District race, coming close but falling short of crossing that 50 percent threshold. It means he will head to a difficult faceoff against Republican Karen Handel in the red district in June.

The national implications and what this race might mean for President Trump were all on the line Tuesday but a split decision leaves a somewhat foggy view: Ossoff’s failing to clinch the election outright, but coming within the slimmest of margins.

Trump didn’t sit on the sidelines for this one. He recorded a robocall and then sent out an array of anti-Ossoff tweets Tuesday. He even took credit for the race’s going to a runoff in a tweet this morning, writing “Dems failed in Kansas and are now failing in Georgia. Great job Karen Handel! It is now Hollywood vs. Georgia on June 20th.”

It doesn’t look like that Trump support will end anytime soon. He called to congratulate Handel this morning and in today’s White House briefing, press secretary Sean Spicer said the president will campaign for Handel “if needed” and Trump is prepared to do "everything he can to maintain majorities to further the party."

Both parties poured resources into the race with Ossoff’s raising record-breaking fundraising dollars hoping to put the special election to bed Tuesday night. Those numbers, and definitely the attention on the race, will likely increase as the fight marches on in a race that continues to try and answer the question of whether anti-Trump anger means real results, not just marches and protests but actual votes and electoral change.

It’s hard to come to any conclusion after Tuesday because, yes, Ossoff didn’t clear the field, but he came oh so close, and that’s against 11 Republicans in a field of 18 candidates, meaning even getting close was a difficult feat. Still, winning in a two-person race in this red district (despite Trump’s only scraping through by 1.5 percentage points in November) will be tough.

One bright spot for the Democrats is that Ossoff had to outperform Hillary Clinton and he did. But he also did it by just the slimmest of margins, where there was some conjecture that the anti-Trump sentiment would mean Ossoff’s coming in with a larger advantage over Clinton.

Ossoff outperformed Clinton in each of the 6th Congressional District's three counties -- just by 1 or 2 percentage points. But he still fell just shy of the support he needed to break 50 percent evenly across all three countries, according to estimates by 538 of benchmarks Ossoff would need to hit to win the election outright.

In Cobb County, Clinton got 40 percent and 538 estimated Ossoff needed 43 percent to avoid a runoff, but Ossoff got 41 percent. In DeKalb County, Clinton got 57 percent and 538 estimated 60 percent, but Ossoff got 59 percent. And in Fulton County, Clinton got 46 percent and 538 estimated 49 percent, but Ossoff got 48 percent.

But the overall results send little reassurance to Republicans. Despite the national spotlight and energy rallied around one Democratic candidate, ultimately Republicans combined for a majority of the vote. Republican candidates earned 51 percent support vs. only 49 percent for Ossoff and the four other Democrats in the race.

Similarly to the Kansas special election, Ossoff dominated in votes cast before Election Day. He earned 62 percent of the early vote, but only 48 percent of the overall vote in the election. Ossoff will need every one of those early voters to head back to the ballot box this time around too.

The national implications of this race were not answered Tuesday night, but they could be in June. This mixed-bag outcome gives both sides the evidence they need to claim victory in the wake of Tuesday night’s results -- and the fodder they need to keep campaigns running at full steam for another eight weeks. What a Republican loss would mean for the president and his ability to govern, as well as what a Democratic loss would mean for the reality of anti-Trump anger and 2018 are two of the most critical questions we will try to use this special election as a crystal ball to answer in just a few short weeks.