Ossoff and Handel both tried to focus on local issues and avoided mentioning Trump, whose approval rating sits at 37 percent, according to the latest polls.

Karen Handel, Republican candidate for Georgia's 6th Congressional District, speaks to supporters during a brief appearance at her election night party at the Hyatt Regency at Villa Christina in Atlanta, Georgia, US, June 20, 2017.
Karen Handel, Republican candidate for Georgia's 6th Congressional District, speaks to supporters during a brief appearance at her election night party at the Hyatt Regency at Villa Christina in Atlanta, Georgia, US, June 20, 2017.

Republican Karen Handel has won a nationally watched congressional election in Georgia, avoiding an upset that would have rocked Washington ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

Incomplete returns show Handel winning almost 53 percent of the vote over Democrat Jon Ossoff, who won about just over 47 percent in Georgia's 6th Congressional District. That margin allows Republicans a sigh of relief after what's being recognised as the most expensive House race in US history, with a price tag that may exceed $50 million.

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

Republicans immediately crowed over winning a seat that Democrats spent $30 million trying to flip. "Democrats from coast to coast threw everything they had at this race, and Karen would not be defeated," House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement.

Democrats still must flip 24 GOP-held seats to regain a House majority next November. Party leaders profess encouragement from the trends, but the latest losses mean they will have to rally donors and volunteers after a tough stretch of special elections.

"This is such an important election because of what goes on in DC," said Tom Greathouse, 52, a business owner who supported Handel. He added that there's been "a tonne of emotion" in a district used to watching Republicans coast.

TRT World's Ediz Tiyansan has the latest.

'Proven Conservative Record'

A former Georgia secretary of state, Handel emphasised throughout the campaign that she has lived in the district for 25 years, unlike Ossoff, who grew up in the district but lives in Atlanta, a few miles south of the 6th District's southern border.

Handel insisted for months that voters' choice had little to do with Trump, whom she rarely mentioned, despite holding a closed-door fundraiser with him earlier this spring. She pointed voters instead to her "proven conservative record" as a state and local elected official.

Her protestations aside, Handel often embraced the national tenor of the race, joining a GOP chorus that lambasted Ossoff as a "dangerous liberal" who was "hand-picked" by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California. She also welcomed a parade of national GOP figures to Atlanta to help her raise money, with Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan holding fund-raisers following Trump's April visit.

On policy, she mostly echoes party leaders. She said she'd have voted for the House Republican healthcare bill, though she sometimes misrepresented its provisions in debates with Ossoff. She touts traditional supply-side economics, going so far as to say during one debate that she does "not support a living wage" — her way of explaining her opposition to a minimum-wage increase.

That wasn't enough to sway the election. But a living wage was a key driver for voters like Grant Robison, 25, a Johns Creek resident who works for National Cash Register. He voted for Jon Ossoff.

"I don't think that anybody should live in poverty, dealing with that when they're working a 40-hour week," he said.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies