How the Democrats keep losing. The most recent addition to this exhibition–probably not the last–is now installed. Georgia’s 6th congressional district went for Republican Karen Handel. In no way was this a surprise, as far as I am concerned. See previous posts on this topic here and here. (Yes, it is time for the I-told-you-so’s.)
The final outcome wasn’t all that much of a squeaker, either. Unofficial results from the Georgia Secretary of State’s website give Handel 51.87 percent of the vote to Jon Ossoff’s 48.13 percent, a margin of almost four points. The end was apparent by 10 p.m. on election night. Handel won by almost 10,000 votes–a not inconsiderable number in a congressional district.
For further perspective, compare the outcome to that of South Carolina’s special election, the same night. Very similar: the Republican candidate, Ralph Norman, won, and by about the same margin. Unofficial results from the South Carolina State Election Commission give Norman 51.10 percent of the vote to 47.88 percent for Democrat Archie Parnell. If you do the arithmetic with close attention, Parnell did slightly better percentage-wise than Ossoff.
In other words, the Democratic candidate in South Carolina did slightly better, though still losing, than the Democratic candidate in Georgia. Is this in spite of the attention paid to ‘flipping’ Georgia during the 2016 election cycle–or because of it?
My working hypothesis is the latter.
More national attention means more money, and more money went to Georgia, as everyone on Earth knows. Googling the phrase ‘the most expensive House race in U.S. history’ turns up 6.5 million results. The non-profit, non-partisan OpenSecrets.org has posted a substantial run-down on dollar amounts as of June 19. As of the day before the special election, at least $56 million had been spent. At that time, the NRCC had spent somewhat more than the DCCC, both pouring millions into the race. The NRCC was playing some catch-up ball; Ossoff was the beneficiary of highly-touted donations and campaign appearances by Hollywood celebrities and others from before the April 18th round of the special election.
But what looks like a national bandwagon of bi-coastal celebrities is not the same as a local landslide. In fact, it is not the same as a local win. It does not translate into a local win.
Even money coming in is not everything.
Compare the money spent on the South Carolina special election to that spent on the Georgia special election. As Open Secrets notes in the same article, by May 31 a grand total of $2.06 million had been raised by Norman and Parnell for the South Carolina race, partly in loans to their campaigns by the candidates themselves. The South Carolina total thus comes to about three percent of the Georgia total.
So–same margin of loss for the Democrats, at three percent of the price? And that’s before the final numbers are all in. There is no reason to expect that the cost ratio of the two elections will narrow after final FEC reports.
Leaning over backward here, I have to mention that voter turnout was better in Georgia, significantly better. South Carolina reports 18.25 percent turnout in its special; Georgia reports turnout of 57.97 percent. Any analyst would say that topping 50 percent in an off-year election, or in a midterm election, let alone a special, is outstanding.
However–more money coming in, with more national attention, also means more outsiderism. Jon Ossoff may not have been a total carpetbagger, but he was no home-grown favorite son, either. His negatives were slight but telling–living outside the district, for example–and not palliated by his fudging the distance he lived away. More importantly, Ossoff’s candidacy was not the organic product of community action, or activism. He had a successful career in media and the potential to attract big money. Thus Ossoff was the hand-picked choice of Dems who thought They Were the Ones Who Knew the Score, in Georgia and more outside it.
Thus he tacitly reinforced the perception of rigged elections. Republicans kept tying him to ‘Nancy Pelosi’, but the real damage is that Ossoff’s candidacy was a pale reflection of Hillary Clinton’s. No choice. That’s the Democratic message: We’re the one for you, and when we say ‘one’, we mean it.
I have no strong hope that writers for either Daily Kos or Rachel Maddow will ever perceive the gut unpopularity of this strategy.
We’re already seeing the fall-out from the special elections in ‘progressive’ public discourse. Short form:
Argument over ‘moving to the left’ misses the point in a big way.
Argument over ‘party leadership’ also probably misses the point.
Candidates win in their own districts. Local talent has to run. Popular, well-liked local talent has to run. And genuine liking comes from having worked for, on behalf of, the people you live among. The hysterical careerists who seem to dominate the Democratic Party nationally have yet to pick up on this.
As to making elections a ‘Referendum on Trump’? Losing strategy. I said so before. Going TrumpTrumpTrump as Hillary Clinton did generates the same outcome Clinton got, or created. Furthermore, making congressional elections a ‘referendum on Trump’ ignores the concerns of the congressional district. It is also basically a form of telling people how stupid they are. (Who are you to have your own opinions or preferences?) Telling people how stupid they are/were may give self-anointed insiders a feeling of power for a few minutes, but it is both mean and a loser. That makes it 0 for 2 in my book.
Meanwhile, the hysteria poured into the Georgia Special sucked away resources that could have gone into home foreclosures, or inmate abuse, or immigrants preyed upon by other immigrants, or the backlog of unprocessed rape kits. If the Democrats would work on these and other issues at home, and would do genuine work, they would be seen doing so.
Not that winning is everything. But losing isn’t anything.
Told you so.