Salon's Andrew O'Hehir has a pretty damning analysis of the failure of Democrats in Georgia's 6th district special election last Tuesday.
Furthermore, as I hinted earlier, the dominant liberal narrative about what happened in the Georgia Sixth is somewhere between highly misleading and complete fiction. If you’ve gotten the impression that the commuter hellscape of the northern Atlanta ‘burbs saw a surge of anti-Trump, pro-Democratic enthusiasm that wasn’t quiteenough to put Ossoff over the top, that’s 100 percent fake news. Want to know how many votes Ossoff picked up with all those millions of dollars in outside donations and all those doorbell-ringing volunteers? I will tell you: Essentially none.
No, it’s true. Ossoff received almost exactly the same vote total as the district’s previous Democratic nominee got against Tom Price in 2016. (In fact, he got 24 fewer votes than that guy. Twenty-four!) The race was close because Karen Handel underperformed drastically, getting about 66,000 fewer votes than Price did in November. I’m going to say that again: There were no Democratic gains in that district at all. The “vote shift” was entirely a matter of bummed-out Republicans staying home. The dynamic in Montana was similar, if slightly worse for both sides: Democrat Rob Quist got 40,000 fewer votes than the last defeated Democrat, while the infamous Greg Gianforte fell 95,000 votes short of previous GOP incumbent Ryan Zinke.
Maybe that’s the grand Democratic strategy for 2018: Depressed voter turnout! Republicans are bewildered about Trump, and if you can run somebody so bland and inoffensive that they don’t get pissed off, they might not show up at all. It would be a measure of karmic payback for the Koch brothers, I guess.
More seriously, those startling numbers from Georgia call into question the apparently reasonable premise that the only way Democrats could possibly compete there was to run a milquetoast moderate with no discernible ideology. You can’t win in an archetypal “Panera district” like that one (the theory holds) by terrifying the polite, professional white folks with vows to tax the rich, provide health care for all and jack up the price of that Cinnamon Dolce Light Frappuccino with a $15 minimum wage.
That might all be true, as a matter of electoral calculus. But if the Democrats are now playing the Republicans’ game of trying to shrink the opposing voter base instead of expanding their own, another Rubicon has been crossed in the degradation of democracy. Maybe an activist firebrand candidate might have expanded the Democratic base or motivated the district’s modest African-American population or done something, anything, beyond spending vast sums of money to accomplish literally nothing. Such a candidate might also might have sparked an intense Republican response and lost anyway, to be sure. But isn’t it better, in terms of morale and long-term strategy, to go down fighting on principle than to go down as a calculated nonentity?
Jon Ossoff was not a whole bunch of things: He had no political experience and no discernible ideology. He did not actually live in the district where he ran for Congress. (He did not look old enough to shave.) To his credit, he was not Donald Trump, not a Republican, not vicious or venal or insane, and those things formed the entire text of his campaign. Ossoff also did not win, and it would not have mattered much if he had. Instead of engineering a symbolic victory, his campaign drained an immense amount of money and activist energy into a black hole of disappointment and defeat.
It's really hard for me to look at Ossoff's loss at this point as anything other than a massive failure. His biggest problem was running to get Romney voters, and they simply stayed home. Not enough of them for Ossoff to win however, and there was every indication that if he did win, we'd have ended up with another useless Democrat like Kyrsten Sinema.
I'm not as cynical as Andrew here, but I do agree that the goal here must be to expand the Democratic base, not trade in base voters for Republicans sick of Trump. We've gotten multiple attempts at failure now running like that. Could another candidate have done better? Maybe. 2018 is another attempt. I hope the lesson is learned.
Time to act like Democrats, and not Republicans. Even in Republican districts, we have to give voters a Democratic choice.