More than 140,000 people have already cast ballots ahead of Tuesday’s hotly contested U.S. House special election runoff in Georgia, indicating high interest in the race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel that both parties see as an important bellwether.
Early voting ended Friday, and the ballots already cast more than double the comparable figure in April’s first-round election, and amount to almost three-quarters of the 192,000 people who voted in that 18-candidate race.
With spending on advertising by both sides nearing a total of $40 million, the race already ranks as the most expensive House contest in U.S. history.
Ossoff and Handel, as the top finishers in the first round, are vying for a seat in suburban Atlanta vacated by Republican Tom Price, who is now President Donald Trump’s secretary of health and human services. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also once represented the district.
The high early vote total indicates that the final numbers on Tuesday will likely far surpass those of the April election. Election officials in Georgia hailed the “unprecedented” and “phenomenal” turnout, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It remained unclear, though, which candidate would benefit from a higher turnout.
Ossoff led by slightly more than 2 percentage points in the HuffPost Pollster average of recent surveys of the race.
Price won re-election November, garnering almost 62 percent of the roughly 311,000 votes cast.
Democrats in particular see the race to replace Price as a test of anti-Trump activism and strategy ahead of next year’s midterm elections. While they have made some impressive showings, they have yet to notch a victory in several highly anticipated congressional special elections this year in traditionally GOP territory.
In April’s election, Ossoff won about 48 percent of the vote, falling just short of clearing the 50 percent mark he needed to avoid a runoff. Handel, one of 11 Republicans competing in the first round, got about 20 percent.
Over the weekend, Ossoff and Handel both campaigned with high-profile political figures in hopes of generating more enthusiasm. Price, as well as former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue ― who now serves as Trump’s agriculture secretary ― joined Handel at a Saturday campaign stop. Ossoff got a boost Saturday from civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).