Guest Commentary: Five Things Democrats Need to Learn from the Georgia Special Election
By Charlie Gerow
In each of the special elections since Donald Trump became president, Democrats have touted their candidacies as a chance to show the world that Trump’s November victory was an aberration and, even if it wasn’t, that the bloom was already off the rose.
They harbored great hope that they could pull off an upset and leverage that victory to boost their national fundraising and create a defining story in the media about their coming success in the pivotal midterm elections.
That was until each of the election days. Victory always eluded them and they were left with feeble excuses and claims of “moral victories.” They were 0 for 4.
The race in Georgia’s 6th district would be different, they claimed. They had some reason for their optimism.
The June 20 runoff followed an all-party primary on April 18 when Democrat Jon Ossoff nearly won the seat outright, taking 48 percent of the vote.
His Republican opponent, Karen Handel, had managed less than 20 percent in a fractious multi-candidate field.
Democrats smelled blood in the water.
This was it, they figured — the chance to win in a solid red district that was once represented by former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R).
They pulled the goalie. They dumped in everything including the kitchen sink. They opened the spigot of national money and in flowed millions of dollars. It was the most expensive congressional race in history. The Democrats alone dropped more than $30 million into the race.
The overwhelming amount of that money came from outside the district. For every penny raised inside the Georgia district, $10 came from outside. There were more Hollywood addresses on contributions than there were local zip codes.
Democrats are now 0-4 against the president – where do they go next?
Another person with an unusual address was the Democrat candidate, Jon Ossoff. He didn’t live in the district. A young man with a thin resume, the national Democrats had seized on him as their great hope in the special election sweepstakes of 2017.
They put all their eggs in his basket. They came up empty.
Now they’re trying desperately to downplay the results. This was always an uphill battle, they now claim, in a strong Republican district.
There’s an element of truth there. But just imagine if the Democrat had won. The race would have been trumpeted as the end of Trump’s presidency and Republican control of Congress.
Right before the Georgia vote, I told our television audience that there were two key things to watch: 1) voter turnout and 2) the margin of victory.
By Election Day, Ossoff had increased his primary vote total by about 32,000 votes. Meanwhile Handel upped hers by 96,000, three times more than her Democratic opponent.
Republicans managed to do in June in Georgia what they had done nationally in November. They got ordinarily low-turnout voters to the polls.
Meanwhile, a lead that had Ossoff and the Democrats crowing about a potential breakthrough win evaporated.
A 6- or 7-point lead turned into a 4-point defeat for Ossoff. Karen Handel is the first woman Republican elected to Congress from The Peachtree State.
Here are five takeaways from last week’s special election:
**The “resistance” stuff simply doesn’t work. Nor does merely being “anti-Trump.” Hillary tried that in November. Ossoff rehashed it in June, with the same result. Voters ultimately want to know what you’re FOR and what you’ll DO once in office.
**The results provide a new opportunity for the Republican/Trump legislative agenda. Republicans are not likely to wander off as the Democrats had once hoped and they can now pass the trifecta of tax cuts, replacing Obamacare and an infrastructure program to boost economic growth.
**There are two keys to success in these races: personalizing and localizing them. Even with all of the outside influence pouring in, Republicans were able to keep the race local and personal. Using the fact that Ossoff didn’t live in the district and that Handel had a long record of community service helped stem the tide of outside impact.
**Republicans can breathe a little easier for now, but cannot become complacent. Next year looms very large and midterm elections have historically not been kind to the party in power. The average loss of seats is near 40 and there are 23 Republicans currently sitting in districts where Hillary Clinton won last fall. In the meantime, big wins for the American people, providing tax relief, more choices in health care and safer and easier to travel roads are what will really matter.
**It looks like Nancy Pelosi is more politically toxic than Donald Trump. The Democrats’ attempt to demonize Trump thus driving votes to Ossoff clearly failed despite the millions put behind that message. Meanwhile, Republicans linked Nancy Pelosi to Jon Ossoff, driving otherwise hesitating Republicans and Independents to the polls to vote for Handel.
Last Tuesday, Republicans got the chance to gloat the Democrats had craved. Their celebrations must be brief. There’s work to be done if they want to continue the revelry in 2018. It begins with passage of their legislative agenda.
Charlie Gerow is CEO of Quantum Communications, a public relations and government affairs firm with offices in Annapolis.