As an eve of poll suggested the race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel was too close to call, people cast their votes in a race that has become one of the most watched – and the costliest – congressional election in history. Officials expected a record turn-out.
“A big factor was Trump. A lot of his policies seem to be going down the wrong way,” said Nick Posey, who had gone to vote with his brother in voting station set up at the Sandy Plains Baptist Church in Marietta. “I see this more about Mr Trump.”
Both Mr Ossoff, a former documentary film-maker, and Ms Handel, who worked as a senior official for the state of Georgia, have campaigned hard to make this a race fought on local issues. Yet millions of Democrats across the country, in need of some sort of victory after Mr Trump’s won last November, have poured in millions of dollars in money and huge support.
If Mr Ossoff can win a seat the Republicans have held since 1979, they believe they can inspire the party’s grass roots and pick up momentum as they prepare for the 2018 midterms.
Rama Siva Kumar, an engineer who moved to the US from India 26 years ago, said he too had come to vote because he was concerned about the direction the country was heading in. He said he was especially worried about Mr Trump’s rhetoric and actions over immigration.
“I want my vote to be heard loud and clear,” he said.
Jon Ossoff answers questions on eve of polling day for Georgia congressional election
Mr Handel started the day casting her own vote, something her campaign and Mr Trump have repeatedly pointed out Mr Ossoff is unable to do because he lives a few miles outside of the district. “He wishes he could vote like me because he doesn’t live in the district,” she told one reporter.
For his part, Mr Ossoff, who grew up in the district but who currently lives with his girlfriend, a full-time medical student, stuck to his script that he is focussing on Georgia and not the wider ramifications.
“I’m sure there are national implications, but it’s my job to consider them,” he told CNN. “My job is to be focussed on representing the people here, not a national political circus.”
Nick Posey said his disgruntlement with Mr Trump was why was voting for Mr Ossoff (Andrew Buncombe )
Ms Handel realises that if she were to lose the contest, it would be a humiliating blow to Mr Trump and to the party. The seat was once occupied by House Speaker Newt Gingrich. It became vacant earlier this year, after incumbent Tom Price was selected to join Mr Trump’s cabinet.
Reports suggest Ms Handel has tried to be careful in the way she has handled Mr Trump. She all but mentioned him ahead of finishing second to Mr Ossoff in an April primary. However, she subsequently welcomed him for a private fundraiser in late April.
Mr Trump has frequently inserted himself into the race, ensuring it receives even more media attention.
“Karen Handel for Congress. She will fight for lower taxes, great healthcare strong security-a hard worker who will never give up,” he said in a pair of tweets on the morning of polling, in which he also accused Mr Ossoff of being “weak on crime and security”.
The district is one of the most affluent and highest educated in the country. Mitt Romney bettered Barack Obama by 23 points in 2012, but Mr Trump only to beat Hillary Clinton in the district by less than two points in last year’s contest. There are said to be fears within the Republican campaign, that some of the district’s better-educated, wealthier residents may prefer to vote for Mr Ossoff because of their dislike of Mr Trump.
Yet Mr Trump clearly also has plenty of supporters in the district, centered on the small towns and suburbs north of Atlanta.
Loretta Philipps, a teacher, said she she was voting for Mr Handel because she liked the New York tycoon. She said she also wanted to land a blow against the “global liberal conspiracy”. She said she thought Mr Trump was doing a good job as president, but that the media failed to treat him fairly.
Another voter, Vivian Witterstein, said she was voting for Mr Handel because of her strong conservative stance on issues such as abortion. “The other guy is a liberal,” she said. “I have her strong values.”