Longshot Democrat candidate Jon Ossoff, who was running in a special election for a House seat in Georgia’s deep-red 6th Congressional District, made it a squeaker last night. In a crowded, “all party” 18-candidate race, he came in with 48.1% of the overall vote. Unfortunately for him, this fell just short of the 50% needed for an outright win. But in a congressional district which was thought to be “off limits” and unwinnable for a Democrat in the last election cycle, it is hard not to see his performance as a significant victory nonetheless.
The race involved a crowded field, with multiple candidates from both sides of the aisle. Bob Gray, one of the Republican candidates, who said he’d be a “willing partner” to Donald Trump if elected, garnered only 10.81% of the vote. The Republican frontrunner, Karen Handel, picked up 19.78% of the vote, almost doubling Gray’s performance. But remarkably, in a district viewed as a Republican stronghold, all 13 Republican candidates combined garnered 50.81% of the vote. Democrats and Dem-leaning Independents got 48.98%.
This forces a two-way special election, to be held in June. Media outlets are predicting that Handel will win once Republican votes are consolidated behind her, and that may end up being the case, although the assumptions underlying that conclusion are the same assumptions which said that Ossoff didn’t have a prayer of running a competitive race in the first place.
With Donald Trump’s approval numbers hovering in the mid-30s – basically limited to the same base he had throughout the GOP primary – this is being called a “wake up call” for the GOP. If we consider this race as a referendum on the Trump presidency and the fierce backlash it has inspired, then this may be true. And there is reason to view it that way. The ability to compete in a such a Republican stronghold may be a byproduct of dissatisfaction with not only the president, but also the mainstream establishment GOP, which Trump increasingly is becoming aligned with. Indeed, Trump jumped into the fray by trying to bolster the GOP in the final days of the race, clearly recognizing the implications of Ossoff’s remarkable showing.
But this is a wake up call for the Democrats, if anything. For too long, Democrats have simply ignored races in districts they felt were too “deep red” to win. As a result, in many of these districts, there would be Dem candidates without support from the national party, or, just as often, no Democratic candidate at all.
You can’t win if you don’t even take the field. Republicans have been single-minded in their focus on winning state legislatures and governorships, and those efforts have paid off. They have played their game all over the electoral map, and they have played it well. Once in control of state houses, they were able to redistrict in the states they controlled to provide a distinct partisan advantage to their candidates. And Georgia’s Sixth District is one of those gerrymandered districts. Ossoff should have been dead in the water.
But he wasn’t. And the lesson is that the DCCC, and the DNC, both need to get candidates into these races and support them. They need to build a strong ground game even where they think it’s not worth it. You can’t win if you don’t try. And the Democrats should also seriously consider abandoning their “seniority based” system. The Republicans don’t do it that way, and that’s how they manage to have a pipeline of strong young talent willing to step up and become
Sith Lords viable candidates for the House and Senate.
You can’t take back the map until you actually try to take back the fucking map. Democratic leadership needs to wake up, build a bench, and compete. Ossoff is walking proof they can do it. And Donald Trump’s repugnance as a human being and his cluelessness as a president gives them an opening. 2018 is coming soon. Time to get a pipeline of talent going, and give them the tools they need to succeed. There might very well be people in all these red states who want to stop cutting themselves off at the knees voting for a corporatocracy that eats them for lunch. Lots of those people thought Trump was going to be the one who saved them. He’s not. It’s up to the Democrats to reconnect with where they came from, stop being Neocon Lite, and become the true party of the people. The country is ready for this.