Dejected Jon Ossoff supporters weep as his defeat sets in. (AAP)
Politicians vying for an open seat in US Congress spent $200 for every vote they received in a by-election held yesterday.
The most expensive House race in history saw an incredible $55 million spent to get people to the polls.
There were so many ads in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District that a TV station introduced a new news bulletin just to reap the benefits of commercial dollars.
And in the end, it was a victory for the status quo.
Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff were competing to take the suburban Atlanta seat after the resignation of cabinet secretary Tom Price.
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Karen Handel makes her victory speech. (AAP)
Price won the seat in the November election by a 61-38 margin, so but all accounts it should not have been close.
But Democrats furious at Donald Trump pinned their hopes on Ossoff, a 30-year-old former congressional aide with a thin resume and a huge online following.
He was running against Handel, a long-time conservative politician who had the vocal backing of Trump.
Special elections normally draw a tiny amount of voters, but yesterday’s vote had a remarkably high turnout.
Which is what makes the $200-a-vote figure so amazing.
Ossoff harnessed a huge fundraising operation with more than 200,000 people donating to his campaign.
Ossoff raised five times as much money as Handel, but the edge was muffled by ads broadcast by independent groups like the Congressional Leadership Fund.
Karen Handel supporters cheer as her victory is announced. (AAP)
In the end Handel beat Ossoff by a 52-48 margin, a close-enough result but short of the win predicted by pollsters.
Both sides claimed the result as a win, but the reality was a devastating blow for Democrats, who had positioned the special election as a serious comeback for their party.
Even though Democrats haven’t held the seat since 1978, they believed an Ossoff victory would show how traditional Republican voters had soured on the party.
Even Trump’s inner-circle couldn’t resist mocking Ossoff and his supporters for their defeat.
But if the result shows anything, it’s that money cannot sway voters.
A solemn Jon Ossoff gives his concession speech. (AAP)
That point may have been proven well-and-truly after the upset victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.
Clinton dramatically outspent Trump on television advertising and on-the-ground campaign expenditures.
But there’s a rapidly diminishing return when it comes to political ads.
That is especially true when it comes to $55 million spent on one seat.
Voters had seen so many television ads they were sick of Ossoff long before they went to the polls.
And with such pressure from both parties to get their supporters to vote, any enthusiasm edge from Democrats was well and truly negated.
Compare that to a special election held on the same day in neighbouring South Carolina.
Neither party spent much money at all on South Carolina’s 5th congressional district, with punters expecting a Republican blowout.
But remarkably, Democrat Arnie Parnell came closer to victory than Ossoff did.
Ralph Norman celebrates his victory in the South Carolina special election. (AAP)
Parnell came less than 3000 votes short of beating Republican Ralph Norman in the seat fictionally held by Kevin Spacey’s character in House of Cards.
But fewer than half the number of voters turned out in the South Carolina election compared to the Georgia one.
All the special elections held this year have seen big swings to Democrats, but no seats have changed hands since the November general election.
But as one pessimistic Republican strategist noted, Democrats held all their seats in 2009 special elections, but lost the House in a massive wave the following year.
So yesterday may have been a disappointment for Democrats, but it doesn’t mean Republicans should be celebrating too hard.
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