Meagan Hanson appears to have pulled out a major upset in the House District 80 race, defeating incumbent Taylor Bennett by just a slim margin of about 1 percent, according to unofficial results from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.

The House District 80 seat includes Brookhaven, Chamblee and a strip of Sandy Springs.

Republican candidate for House District 80 Meagan Hanson with 14-year-old campaign volunteer Sam Brenner at her watch party Nov. 8. (Photo Dyana Bagby)

Secretary of State unofficial results showed Democratic incumbent Bennett with 11,847 votes, or 49.48 percent of the vote, to Republican challenger Hanson’s 50.52 percent, or 12,095 votes, with results from DeKalb and Fulton County reporting.

Hanson and Bennett live in Brookhaven.

“Obviously it was very close and we didn’t know the final tally until this morning,” Bennett said in a phone interview. “We knew it would be close.”

Bennett noted when the district was formed, it was a conservative Republican stronghold. That demographic has drastically changed in the past 10 years.

He praised his campaign and staff for their hard work in getting out the message he carried and said he hopes the message of inclusion and hope continues to resonate. “It’s a different world right now and I hope people understand they need to pay more attention. We had such small turnout in our races and also at the national level.”

Bennett, an attorney, said he would continue to work in the state to make it better. “You don’t need to be a state legislator to get stuff done,” he said.

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Hanson could not be immediately reached on Nov. 9, but at her Election Night watch party she praised her campaign for focusing on issues.

“We fought hard to get this seat back” into Republican control, Hanson said.

Hanson said she ran for office because the Republicans she saw running were not socially moderate like she is and she wanted to have that kind of representation in the General Assembly.

“I wanted to bring balance back to the Republican Party,” she said. “If not me, then who?”

Hanson’s campaign manager, Ian Caraway, said a win for Hanson would show the right Republican candidate could win in competitive districts.

“Her win would prove we can win in a swing district and that we can win anywhere with the right candidate,” Caraway said.

Shortly before midnight on Nov. 8, unofficial results from the Fulton County Department of Registration and Elections showed Hanson ahead with 3,228 votes, or 53.29 percent, to Bennett’s 2,829 votes, or 46.71 percent, with 86 percent of precincts reporting.

In DeKalb County, unofficial results at about midnight showed Bennett holding on to a slim lead with 7,248 votes, or 51.5 percent, to Hanson’s 6,809 votes, or 48.38 percent, with eight of 11 precincts reporting.

Meagan Hanson’s strategist Robert Lee, far left, with campaign manager Ian Caraway, center, and her husband, David Hanson, watch results roll in on Election Night. (Photo Dyana Bagby)

Hanson’s watch party at the Hudson Grille sports bar on Peachtree Road was filled with volunteers and supporters noshing on bar food, such as sliders and chicken fingers.

The ground games for both candidates were crucial. Hanson said her volunteers knocked on 20,000 doors asking for votes and made more than 20,000 phone calls.

Jason Carter, friend and supporter of state Rep. Taylor Bennett, talks with other campaign supporters at Bennett’s Election Night party. (Photo Dyana Bagby)

Robert Sills, campaign manager for Bennett, said they felt the campaign went well with volunteers and supporters knocking on more than 25,000 doors and making 5,000 phone calls in the past two weeks.

Bennett was holed up in his war room at his campaign headquarters on Apple Valley Road earlier in the evening watching numbers come in and declined an interview request.

“This is a swing district … and Taylor has shown he is more than willing to cross the aisle,” Sills said on his behalf. Bennett, who was elected last year in a special election, was vying for his first full term as a state legislator.

A wall in state Rep. Taylor Bennett’s campaign headquarters was filled with notes of what voters wished for in this election. Click to enlarge. (Photo Dyana Bagby)

Former state Senator and Democratic nominee for governor Jason Carter was at Bennett’s election watch party as was state Sen. Elena Parent. Parent coasted to an easy victory for re-election in District 42 with 70 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results from the Secretary of State Office.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.