Democrats have a reason not to be too mournful, but they shouldn’t be celebrating, either.
In an election victory that surprised absolutely no one, Karen Handel won the special election for Georgia’s Sixth District in the House of Representatives. So, why would Democrats see this as a sign of optimism? The answer can be found in the margins.
At the time of this writing, there are two percent of districts remaining to be reported in Cobb County. Cobb is pretty solidly red. Further, Handel’s lead in the county is so far ahead, that even if all the remaining votes went to Ossoff, he would still lose. But, the overall vote tally for the entire district shows something rather unexpected. Handel only won the district by, at this time, five-point-two percentage points. The New York Times is still predicting that when all the remaining votes are tallied, the final margin will only be around four percentage points.
This was not just a close race. This was an extraordinarily close race. In Georgia. While it is true that Trump only carried the district by two percentage points in the presidential election, presidential votes don’t always reflect the votes in something like a House race, especially when you consider that neither presidential candidate was terribly popular. To put this into proper perspective, you have to compare this special election for the House seat to the last election for the House seat.
Georgia’s 6th district last went to Tom Price, who was appointed to be Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services. Price won this same district by twenty-four percentage points only seven months ago. This is a significant drop, especially in a district that was supposed to be safe, facilitating the Price’s appointment. If, as the pundits have said, this special election was a referendum on Trump, the outlook isn’t exactly rosy. He’s still hanging on, but his popularity is waning. It is waning so much that a safe district in Georgia almost elected a Democrat with no record or history to point to.
But for all the backslapping and conciliatory tweets and soundbites that are sure to come in the next few days, the reality is, almost doesn’t count.
Yes, it’s probably true that a Democrat was never going to win this race. But it isn’t a foregone conclusion, especially considering how close it ended up being. If you look at it from the perspective that a Democrat could have won Georgia’s 6th District, then you have to ask the question: Why did they lose? And this will likely have uncomfortable answers.
Some critics will no doubt say that Ossoff was too safe. He was too middle of the road. He didn’t pop out. Perhaps this is true. But, a case could also be made that in a district like this, he sharpened his chances of winning by not being too far to the left. Remember, we are talking about Georgia. This is a state that hasn’t reliably voted for Democrats since they were the more socially conservative party, way back when. Some of that has to do with the racial resentment I wrote about recently. But that’s not really the big picture here.
Some critics will point out that Ossoff, and other Dems looking to unseat Republicans in 2018, don’t have much of a message. Their main selling point at this time is, “We’re aren’t Republicans,” or the more unfavorable, “We told you so.” These are, while facially correct points, not good selling points. They don’t move people to the polls to pull the lever for them beyond the group of people who would likely have voted for them anyway. Most of these critics will likely be correct in their points.
Part of the problem that Democrats face in the post-Obama era is that they have the image of having sold out to Wall Street, as far as economic concerns go; and that they are more concerned with identity politics, rather than addressing what middle America views are the real problems (of course, there is an equally strong case to be made that the Dem’s solutions are difficult, and voters in these areas don’t want change, and they damn sure don’t want change that will be hard to accomplish – they want things to be the way they were 30 or 40 years ago).
While the so-called identity issues are noble issues, and I believe that they are battles that need to be fought, the reality is that these are issues that don’t matter to voters in states like Georgia; even for the liberals. Issues like transgender rights are so not on the radar for the average Georgia voter that even the Republican Party in the state hasn’t used those same issues as a bludgeoning wedge issue the way they have in states like North Carolina or Indiana. What these voters care about is the economic message: Where did my job go? Will it come back? What do I do now?
To Ossoff’s credit, he didn’t run a campaign based around the identity issues. But, he didn’t really have an economic message, either. The special election showed that Democrats could win places like Georgia’s Sixth District. But, without a message that will give voters hope, the special election did not show that Democrats should win in places like Georgia’s Sixth District.
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