The White House has claimed a special election in Georgia in which a young Democrat came first by almost 30 points, was in fact a “big loss” for the party.
In what many observers viewed as a major blow to Donald Trump and the Republicans, Democrat Jon Ossoff secured 48 per cent in an election for Georgia’s sixth congressional district, a seat that had previously been occupied by Tom Price, now the president’s health secretary.
Had Mr Ossoff managed to get more than 50 per cent of the total, he would have won outright. As it is, he will go forward for a run-off on June 20th against Republican Karen Handel.
Thanks to all of you, we defied the odds and shattered expectations -- and we are ready to fight on and win in June. Onward to victory. pic.twitter.com/iMrWbEulxq— Jon Ossoff (@ossoff) April 19, 2017
Mr Price had won the seat in the 2016 election by a margin of 23 points - something Mr Ossoff, a political neophyte hopes he can turn around in the run-off against Ms Handel.
Mr Trump had entered the campaign in recent days and used Twitter to claim that his intervention had halted the young man. “It is now Hollywood vs Georgia on June 20th,” he said.
Mr Ossoff, who ran on a pledge to “Make Trump Furious”, portrayed the New York tycoon as a Washington insider. He also dismissed Republican claims that he did not live in the district, pointing out that he grew up there and was now living with his girlfriend one mile outside the boundary.
“Folks in Washington tend to overstate their influence in local races like this,” Mr Ossoff told MSNBC. “This comes down to grassroots intensity.”
Despite what seemed like at least a moral victory for Mr Ossoff, the White House claimed that it was in truth a defeat.
Press secretary Sean Spicer said the results marked a “big loss” as they had been anticipating a large win.
“This is a district very close on the presidential level last cycle and the Democrats went all in on this. They were clear going into this election that their goal was to get over 50 per cent, so they came up short,” said Mr Spicer.
Mr Ossoff raised more than $8m in the weeks leading up to Tuesday's election, much of it coming from major Democratic donors located outside of Georgia.
The former congressional aide hovered around 50 per cent of the vote for most of the Tuesday evening, but eventually dipped to a total vote share of 48 percent.
Ms Handel received a little over 19 per cent of the vote on Tuesday. Mr Spicer said Mr Trump could campaign for her “if needed”.
“The reaction has been that they almost won - no, they lost,” Mr Spicer insisted. “Anything short of describing that as a loss is sort of inconceivable to me in the sense that they literally said that is what they said would do.”