He was a candidate on whom it would be worth risking millions. He was a messianic, baby-faced neophyte slated to stage a Macron-esque takeover of Georgia’s sixth congressional district in the #Resistance’s first great blow to Trump’s America. CNN’s Don Lemon even likened him to Barack Obama.
Jon Ossoff was supposed to be a vessel for the categorical repudiation of the Trump administration, but alas, as the president gleefully noted this morning, the Democrats marked two new entries in a growing line of losing streaks in special elections framed by some in the media as referendums on one of the most unpopular presidents in modern American history.
After sinking $25 million into Ossoff’s campaign, Democrats are stuck rewriting the narrative that all hope and glory rested on the fate of GA-06.
The original liberal logic went: An effective Democratic candidate, not bogged down by the scandals and unlikability of Hillary Clinton and running, in effect, against Trump (who beat Clinton in the district by an uncharacteristically low margin of 1.5 percent), could easily outperform Clinton. The Democrats put so much weight on this concept that Ossoff’s campaign became the most expensive congressional bid in U.S. history. California donors and super PACs outspent every other state nine-to-one to try to flip the sixth district, only to see Ossoff actually underperforming both the polls and Clinton’s 2016 GA-06 vote to go down in a stunning defeat.
In April, Slate branded Ossoff the pioneer of “Georgia’s progressive renaissance” — a man gearing up to answer the “existential insult of Trump.” Following Ossoff’s win in the Georgia primary, CNN’s Sally Kohn boasted that the election “damn sure was a referendum on Trump and Trump lost big league.” The Left continued to characterize the race as Ossoff versus Trump as the runoff drew nearer. Just this past weekend, the New York Times declared it would be a “high-stakes referendum on Trump,” with the “highest” stakes for Republicans.
Yet as the votes poured in and Handel began to exceed polling and expectations, the media began to sing a different tune.
The spin began as the New York Times tweeted that “Handel averted a humiliating upset for Republicans.”
Vox’s Matthew Yglesias, who had previously compared Ossoff’s crusade to “Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign” reflective of a “leftward shift of the Democratic Party’s message,” today decried his “bland and inoffensive” image of “just a nice guy who doesn’t like Donald Trump.”
In a similar 180, Kohn tweeted out, “In many ways, [Handel] distanced herself from [Trump]. This is not Trump’s victory.”
Wait, so is Ossoff basically Barack Obama or a tepid centrist? Is Handel a Trump surrogate or a Never Trumper? Most importantly, wasn’t Ossoff supposed to win with a five-point lead?
The Democratic panic is warranted. Ossoff’s losing 1.2 percent of Clinton’s GA-6 vote after the Democratic party put everything, emotionally and financially, on the line for a candidate they equated to their only remaining widely liked leader, has worrisome implications. Perhaps if the Democrats had put slightly less of a moral investment in this election, it would be seen for what it really is: a special election. But FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver aptly noted, “Sometimes dumb things matter if everyone agrees that they matter.”
With taxpayer-subsidized Planned Parenthood dumping nearly $735,000 into Ossoff’s campaign and the DCCC pouring in over $5 million, Republicans turned out to vote in record numbers. Ultimately, for Georgia voters the election was less of a referendum on Trump than a rejection of an untried carpetbagger.