The special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District was supposed to be a sign that Democrats’ political fortunes were turning a corner. Indeed they invested millions of dollars in the race to purchase a win and manufacture some positive momentum. But it didn’t happen. Once again a Democrat candidate with enormous perceived advantages underperformed, signaling that the electorate is not yet ready to give up on President Trump.
Democrats have spent months hyping the special election for months now. Republicans have held the suburban Atlanta seat for nearly forty years, but after Rep. Tom Price stepped down to become Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Democrats sniffed opportunity. Although Rep. Price won the district by comfortable margins, Trump eked out a victory, winning just 48.3 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 46.8 percent.
Democrats also knew that they held structural advantages in the election. Not the least of these was the so-called “jungle primary” system in which candidates run simultaneous primary and general elections campaign. While the GOP fielded a whopping 12 candidates, each of which was battling against one another and the Democrat candidate—fillmaker Jon Ossof—who was able to train his attacks solely against Republicans.
Sensing this was their chance to put a chink in the GOP’s armor, Democrats pumped $8.3 million into the race. As Allahpundit notes for HotAir, “among the 435 House races last fall, the only candidates to raise more were Paul Ryan and Democrat Randy Perkins, who dumped more than $10 million of his own dough into his campaign (and lost).”
Couple that cash advantage (more than quadruple the next-closest candidate) with celebrity involvement and an overwhelming ground game consisting of busing out-of-state volunteers into the districts, and Democrats should have been able to conjure a win. In fact, as Jeremy Carl argued in National Review, given everything that the party has invested in this race, a Democrat loss would say a lot more about 2018 than a Republican loss.
Having lost in Kansas, the media are now moving on to their next anti-GOP obsession, a special election in Georgia’s sixth district, traditionally Republican, but very unfavorable to Trump (the 48 percent he took there trailed Romney’s 2012 showing by twelve percentage points). Again, the media is pushing a message that is the opposite of the reality on the ground — the notion that a GOP defeat here would be a sign of GOP doom in 2018. The exact opposite is the case — if the Dems can’t win this seat, with their candidate having a massive spending advantage, a divided GOP field, and one of the most Trump-unfriendly GOP districts in the country, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which they would have enough momentum to run the table and win the House in 2018.
And then came election night. For a while it looked as if Democrats’ investment would pay off. Initial results had Ossof capturing a stunning 71 percent of the vote, a sign that Democrats are motivated and ready to vote, but the election-day vote trended highly toward the myriad GOP candidates, and Ossof ended with 48.1 percent of voters.
In other words, Democrats spent $8 million dollars to improve on Hillary Clinton’s numbers in the district by 1.3 percentage points. That’s not disappointing, it’s a disaster. And as Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti writes, it has Democrats beginning to wonder: When do we win?
Ossoff’s moral victory — capturing 48 percent of the vote in a conservative-oriented district — was welcome, but after two successive close-but-no-cigar finishes in House special elections in Georgia and Kansas, a new worry is beginning to set in.
For all the anger, energy, and money swirling at the grass-roots level, Democrats didn’t manage to pick off the first two Republican-held congressional seats they contended for in the Trump era, and the prospects aren’t markedly better in the next few House races coming up: the Montana race at the end of May, and the South Carolina contest on June 20.
Their best shot at knocking Donald Trump down a peg appears to be Ossoff’s runoff against Republican Karen Handel, also scheduled for June 20. But the Democrat will be an underdog in that contest, when there won’t be a crowded field of Republicans to splinter the vote.
After that, it’ll be a further five months before the New Jersey and Virginia elections for governor, leaving some strategists and lawmakers wondering how to keep the furious rank-and-file voters engaged in fueling and funding the party’s comeback — especially given the sky-high expectations that surrounded Ossoff’s ultimately unsuccessful run at the 50-percent threshold that was necessary to win the seat outright
Democrats won’t be able to replicate the $8 million in campaign contributions, the Hollywood endorsements and involvement, and the gobs of media attention for any, much less each, of the races in 2018. That’s why Democrats desperately needed to make a statement with a big win in Georgia’s 6th. Not only did they not win, they didn’t get particularly close, an outcome that spells real trouble for the Democrat “resistance.”