Ossoff won 48.1 percent of the vote Tuesday and now faces a runoff against his nearest rival, Karen Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state who won 19.8 percent of the vote. The deciding ballot will be on June 20.
Trump was heavily invested in the race, which became a referendum on his presidency, and in a tweet claimed victory, although Ossoff could still win in the runoff, and came out of nowhere to nearly win the seat in a heavily Republican district.
“Despite major outside money, FAKE media support and eleven Republican candidates, BIG “R” win with runoff in Georgia,” Trump said in a tweet. “Glad to be of help!”
Ossoff, who had predicted an outright victory, nonetheless said the outcome was a win.
“This is already a remarkable victory,” he said in a statement quoted by the New York Times. “We defied the odds, shattered expectations, and now are ready to fight on and win in June.”
Ossoff, 30, is a documentarian and a former congressional staffer who drew endorsements from the national party and from veteran Georgia congress members, including civil rights giant Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), for whom Ossoff once interned.
The special election in Georgia’s traditionally Republican 6th District was called after Trump named its congressman, Republican Tom Price, as health secretary. It drew 11 Republicans, five Democrats, and three independents.
Price won the district in November with over 60 percent of the vote, but Trump beat his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, by barely a percentage point.
Democrats saw an opportunity, and soon the national party, as well as liberal grassroots groups, rallied around Ossoff, pouring upwards of 8 million of dollars into his campaign.
Trump in the final days of the campaign appeared to perceive the damage an Ossoff win would do to a presidency scoring historically low approval ratings and in which his agenda has been stymied by the courts and Congress.
The president tweeted multiple attacks on Ossoff in recent days.
“Republicans must get out today and VOTE in Georgia 6,” he said in a tweet posted at dawn Tuesday. “Force runoff and easy win! Dem Ossoff will raise your taxes-very bad on crime & 2nd A(mendment).”
Ossoff was one of three Jews — another Democrat and a Republican — running Tuesday. He sought support from the district’s Jewish community.