21 June 2017 — 0645 mdt
Ossoff’s loss was not a surprise
Jon Ossoff’s 3.8 point loss to Republican Karen Handel in yesterday’s special congressional election in Georgia should neither surprise nor demoralize Democrats. Although one of America’s 15 best educated congressional districts, for decades GA-6 has elected reactionary Republicans, among them Newt Gingrich, and most recently surgeon and now Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, by whopping margins. The wonder is not that Ossoff lost, but that he came so close to winning.
the main culprit tonight was probably the outsize expectations they developed in what was after all a Republican district that Tom Price won seven straight times with a minimum of 61 percent of the vote. There is a reason Ossoff’s strategy was to win in the first round before local and national Republicans got their act together.
Donald Trump carried the district by only a point, which gave Ossoff and Democrats hope, but he did carry it. There may come a time when GA-6’s Trumpests regret voting for him, but right now Trump’s supporters are standing by their man and not entertaining self-doubt. Ossoff and the Democrats would have been smarter to have run against Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, both certifiable villains with long histories of pimping for the rich and trickling down on the poor. Because neither Ryan nor McConnell ever appeared on a Georgia ballot, GA-6’s voters could repudiate them without repudiating themselves.
Instead, observes David Atkins at The Washington Monthly, Ossoff tried to suck-up appeal to Republicans by running as a de facto nonpartisan candidate:
The lesson of the special elections around the country is clear: Democratic House candidates can dramatically outperform Clinton in deep red rural areas by running ideological, populist campaigns rooted in progressive areas. Poorer working class voters who pulled the lever for Trump can be swayed back to the left in surprisingly large numbers—perhaps not enough to win in places like Kansas, Montana and South Carolina, but certainly in other more welcoming climes. Nor is there a need to subvert Democratic principles of social justice in order to accomplish this: none of the Democrats who overperformed Clinton’s numbers in these districts curried favor with bigots in order to accomplish it.
But candidates like Clinton and Ossoff who try to run inoffensive and anti-ideological campaigns in an attempt to win over supposedly sensible, wealthier, bourgeois suburban David-Brooks-reading Republican Romney voters will find that they lose by surprisingly wide margins. There is no Democrat so seemingly non-partisan that Romney Republicans will be tempted to cross the aisle in enough numbers to make a difference.
The way forward for Democrats lies to the left, and with the working classes. It lies with a firm ideological commitment to progressive values, and in winning back the Obama voters Democrats lost to Trump in 2016 without giving ground on commitments to social justice. It does not lie in the wealthy suburbs that voted for Romney over Obama in 2012, or in ideological self-effacement on core economic concerns.
One class of Democrats did win in all of this year’s special congressional elections: the consultant class. They made millions of dollars by finding a thousand and one ways to contact, annoy, and enrage voters. They won’t be punished for running campaigns that lost. They’ll be applauded for raising so much money. And because they adhered to the DCCC’s bible, their sin of losing will be forgiven, and they’ll be rewarded with lucrative jobs with Democratic campaigns in 2018.