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Politics & Policy

Democrats Turned Off by Ossoff’s Falloff and Need for a Runoff Face-Off

From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Democrats Turned Off by Ossoff’s Fall Off And Need for a Runoff Face-Off

Poor Alyssa Milano.

Look, it stinks to work hard, actually get active and volunteer to drive people to the polls, and perform pretty well… and fall just short of your goals. Did Democrat Jon Ossoff do well? Sure, getting 48.1 percent is nothing to sneeze at. The problem is that this means the race goes to a runoff between Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel, and unless a lot of supporters of other GOP candidates stay home, the odds are good that Handel will win the runoff. A longtime GOP-held House seat, consisting of Atlanta suburbs that weren’t particularly enamored with Donald Trump, will likely remain Republican, and the status quo will continue.

Ossoff also had a huge fundraising advantage that he’s not likely to enjoy again, and that few candidates anywhere ever get to enjoy: more than $8 million, quadruple the next-closest contender. Not many Democratic House candidates get Samuel L. Jackson making radio ads for them, either, declaring, “We have to channel the great vengeance and furious anger we have for this administration into votes at the ballot box.” That’s nice. Democrats kind-of, sort-of did. But… Hillary Clinton won 47 percent in this district on Election Day 2016, and Ossoff won 48 percent.

In all likelihood, furious Democrats donated $8 million to Ossoff to win a “moral victory.” Milano’s understandable nausea comes from Democrats’ genuine hopes that Ossoff could win 50 percent in the jungle primary and win outright, an outcome that appeared plausible in the early returns of the evening, influenced heavily by Democrat-heavy early voting, and that slipped out of reach as the more Republican-heavy Election Day returns were added to the total.

As Jeff Ditzler put it, “Ossoff leading all night, then fading at the end might help in the runoff. Atlanta Falcon fans will be able to relate to that.”

You could almost feel the “what it all means” essays being furiously rewritten as the results shifted to a runoff and likely GOP victory June 20. There was a narrative of backlash, the Resistance and the Democratic comeback, all ready to go… but the voters in the district missed that memo and loused it all up by voting more or less the same way they did in November.

Progressive leaders put the evening’s results in the best possible light.  Adam Green, co-founder, Progressive Change Campaign Committee declared in a statement, “Jon Ossoff’s first-place finish in ruby-red Georgia shows the huge opportunities for progressive candidates across the country — from Tom Perriello for Governor in Virginia to Rob Quist for Congress in Montana.” Yes, there are indeed opportunities. But opportunities for victory are not the same as actual victories.

Last night, David Freedlander observed that the allegedly newly-energized Democrats have fallen short in the three Congressional races since Election Day 2016: the Louisiana Senate runoff, the Kansas special House election, and last night’s special House election in Georgia. I pointed out that none of those were particularly friendly territory for Democrats – and neither are the other remaining special House elections for this year, in Montana’s at-large district and South Carolina’s fifth district. (The record is a little more mixed in the handful of special state legislative elections so far this year, but it’s a stretch to argue that these little-noticed races represent early referendums on the president.)

He reminded me about Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, undoubtedly a Republican upset for the ages. But it’s probably worthwhile to think back to all the special elections in that cycle where Republicans thought they might have a shot and fell short: Scott Murphy beating Jim Tedisco in New York, John Garamendi beating David Harmer in California, Bill Owens beating Doug Hoffman in New York, Ted Deutch beating Ed Lynch in Florida, Mark Critz beating Tim Burns in Pennsylvania… Looking at those special elections, you would have thought Democrats were in “good enough” shape for the 2010 midterms. Then in May 2010, Charles Djou won a seat in Hawaii that Republicans would ordinarily never win, and the signs of a GOP wave started to build. Are special elections early indicators of what’s going to happen in the next major election? Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t.

One other point about last night worth mentioning – the “jungle primary” system has candidates running simultaneous primary and general election campaigns. A candidate like Karen Handel had to argue why she was better than the other GOP alternatives and better than the Democrat at the same time. If you have a crowded GOP field on one side, and a small or de facto unified Democrat field on the other, that’s an enormous advantage to the Democrat.

Much like in the 2016 presidential primary, last night the GOP was bedeviled by a bunch of no-hope no-names clogging up a ballot. As Patrick Ruffini observed, “It’s really hard to motivate people to vote for an anybody-but-X basket of candidates.” Last night saw seven Republican candidates get less than one percent. Unfortunately, parties don’t have much power to keep gadfly candidates off a ballot, if they file the right papers, collect the required signatures, and pay the proper fees.

Perhaps it’s time to consider new ideas…

“There will be a substantial reward for the one who eliminates the most no-name GOP candidates on the ballot. You are free to use any methods necessary.”


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