Democrat Jon Ossoff will face Republican Karen Handel in a runoff for Georgia's 6th District House seat on June 20.

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Liberals argue Tuesday's results are more evidence of an expanded House battlefield in 2018

The special election had a strong Democrat but he couldn't clear a 50% threshold

Atlanta CNN  — 

Democrat Jon Ossoff’s progressive grassroots-fueled campaign will fall just short of the 50% he needed to avoid a runoff, CNN projected early Wednesday morning, in a closely watched special election for a House seat in reliably Republican Georgia.

But even though their potential psychic victory has been muted somewhat, the left is still calling the result – one that leaves Ossoff with momentum headed into a June 20 runoff against Republican Karen Handel – a win.

Their argument: Tuesday’s results are more evidence of an expanded House battlefield in 2018, and it suggests what once looked like a disastrous Senate map – with 10 Democratic senators up for re-election in states Trump won – now isn’t necessarily so bad.

The endorsement of Daily Kos was what catapulted Ossoff into an online fundraising juggernaut who would haul in $8.3 million in 2017’s first quarter. Here’s what Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas emailed CNN on Tuesday night:

“To me what’s amazing is that we continue to see this level shift across the country, a 20-point swing, that puts about 123 Republican seats potentially in play. At that point, very little is off the map, and getting the 24 seats we need to take back the House is suddenly a real possibility, GOP gerrymander or not. It also potentially puts the Senate in play, while certainly protecting our endangered red-state incumbents. All of this, and we’re still in Trump’s supposed ‘honeymoon’ period!”

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Trump claimed that his robocalls and tweets attacking Ossoff made a difference in a post-midnight tweet. “Despite major outside money, FAKE media support and eleven Republican candidates, BIG “R” win with runoff in Georgia. Glad to be of help!” the President wrote.

If that’s “help,” though, progressives are likely to want Trump to help Republicans everywhere.

After all, Mitt Romney carried Georgia’s 6th District by 23 points in 2012. But Trump won it by less than 2 points – at the same time Price was re-elected by a 23-point margin. And on Tuesday, Ossoff came within inches of capturing a seat that’s been in GOP hands for decades while campaigning as a vessel for the anti-Trump resistance.

Another progressive declaration of victory, in a statement from executive director Anna Galland, shows what Democrats are going to be saying about Tuesday night.

“Jon Ossoff’s first-place finish tonight is a huge triumph for the Resistance and for progressives, who boosted Ossoff to the top of a crowded race in a Republican-leaning district. Less than six months ago, a Republican won this district by more than 20 points,” she said. “Tonight, a progressive Democrat got the most votes in a seat Newt Gingrich once held, and, as votes continued to be tallied, was hovering near 50 percent. The reason is clear: voters are rejecting Trump and his policies, especially the highly unpopular GOP-led health care repeal proposals like Trumpcare.”

One potential caveat: Until now, Ossoff has had the entire progressive world’s captive attention. Now, some of that focus is going to shift to Virginia, where many are backing Tom Perriello. That primary is June 13 – a week before the Georgia runoff.

There’s also a special election for Montana’s House seat May 25 that Democrats see as their second-best shot – after Georgia – of capturing a seat formerly held by a member of Trump’s Cabinet.

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“If Jon Ossoff comes in first place in the ruby-red district of Georgia’s sixth … it will make clear that this is the first domino to fall,” said Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

“We have Tom Perriello running in Virginia in June in a very competitive primary, we have Rob Quist running in a competitive special election in Montana,” Green said, “and no matter what happens tonight, it’s going to feed the energy of these other races.”