Knife-edge vote counts rattle Republicans

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Media captionThe Georgia vote is the most expensive congressional election in history

Cliffhanger election counts are under way from Tuesday’s congressional elections in the US states of Georgia and South Carolina.

The Georgia race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel in suburban Atlanta is too close to call.

Democrat Archie Parnell and Republican Ralph Norman are also neck and neck in South Carolina’s solidly conservative fifth district.

The elections will be seen by many as a referendum on President Donald Trump.

Democrats have suffered narrow defeats in Kansas and Montana this year.

The South Carolina seat, vacated when Mick Mulvaney became Mr Trump’s budget director, was expected to be an easy win for Republicans.

Trump tweets support

In the Georgia race, spending on all candidates has been put at $56m (£44m), making it the costliest congressional election in US history.

Mr Ossoff narrowly failed to win the 50% needed to secure outright victory in the election for the Atlanta seat in April, forcing this run-off vote against Ms Handel.

The Democrats were looking to capitalise on the president’s low approval ratings to win Georgia’s sixth district seat.

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Karen Handel lost the first round in April, but the Republican vote was split

On Monday, Mr Ossoff, 30, told local TV: “It’s a neck-and-neck race, and it’s all about turnout now. That’s why we’re so focused on getting out the vote.”

Ms Handel, 55, spent Monday campaigning across the district, and received support from a Donald Trump tweet on Tuesday.

The president said: “KAREN HANDEL FOR CONGRESS. She will fight for lower taxes, great healthcare strong security – a hard worker who will never give up! VOTE TODAY.”

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Jon Ossoff speaks to volunteers. Getting the vote out is vital, he says

In a second tweet, he said that Mr Ossoff was “weak on crime and security, doesn’t even live in district”.

Ms Handel came a distant second to Mr Ossoff in the April election, but the Republican vote had been split among 11 candidates.

Republicans believe the run-off will favour them in an affluent seat they have held since 1979.

They also believe last week’s shooting of Republicans on a Virginia baseball field will count in their favour at the polls.

The suspected gunman was a Democratic supporter and a Republican advert that sought to politicise the attack was condemned by Ms Handel.

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Media captionCan Democrats ‘make Trump furious’?

The Atlanta seat was made vacant when Congressman Tom Price left to join the Trump administration as health secretary.

The Republicans have so far staved off defeats by the Democrats this year.

In April they narrowly defended a deeply conservative Kansas seat vacated when Mr Trump appointed Congressman Mike Pompeo to lead the CIA.

Last month, Republican Greg Gianforte won a special congressional election in Montana, despite being charged with assaulting a UK reporter.

Stakes are high – Anthony Zurcher, BBC News, Washington

If November was the height of political winter for Democrats, the party faithful have been desperately searching ever since for the first signs of spring. In special congressional elections in Kansas and Montana they’ve strained to see green shoots. Narrow defeats there, with talk of moral victories, have only gone so far.

In Georgia on Tuesday, if Democrats hope for a thaw, they need to post a win.

The Atlanta-area race is the kind of contest Democrats need if they want to take back control of the House of Representatives next year. It’s a historically Republican seat that Donald Trump barely won last November, full of the educated suburban voters who populate key swing districts in Florida, California and across the South.

Mr Trump has celebrated his party’s previous special election victories. Democrats would love to give him a taste of electoral defeat.

If they come up short, frustration – tinged with hopelessness – will follow. If they win, Republicans will look to next year’s balloting with foreboding bordering on panic.

It’s one election; a single seat out of 435. The stakes, however, are just that high.

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