Go ahead and do a little dance this morning, Republicans!
Watch to see if the conventional wisdom on Jon Ossoff as a candidate changes quickly. (I can’t tell whether Jonah is serious when he refers to Ossoff as a ‘hipster dufus candidate’.) Remember, heading into yesterday, he was considered a pretty solid candidate for this district, once you put aside the residency issue and his baby face. He’s got a pretty good resume (Georgetown, London School of Economics, held a security clearance while working in Congress, made a documentary about ISIS) and avoided gaffes on the trail and in debates.
For a long time, Republican campaign consultants and their allies would look at a Democratic opponent who had served in a state legislature or Congress, and add up every time they had voted in subcommittee, committee, or the full chamber for a bill, amendment, or budget resolution that included tax increases. Sometimes they would throw in any vote against a tax cut as well. You know the end result from attack ads: “John Smith voted to raise taxes 132 times.”
In a legislature, a lawmaker votes on all kinds of matters, and sooner or later, he’ll make a controversial one. Democrats gradually realized that an inexperienced candidate, with no time spent in government, has something of an advantage in that there’s no record to examine and attack. A big part of the Democrats’ wave election in 2006 was built on first-time candidates or those with non-traditional candidate backgrounds: Jim Webb in Virginia, Tim Mahoney in Florida, Brad Ellsworth in Indiana (he had been a sheriff), Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack in Iowa, John Yarmuth in Kentucky, Tim Walz in Minnesota, Heath Shuler in North Carolina, Jason Altmire, Joe Sestak, Patrick Murphy, and Chris Carney in Pennsylvania, and Steve Kagan in Wisconsin. It’s easier to argue “I’m not like those other Democrats” when you have no record of voting like all those other Democrats.
Of course, in subsequent cycles, a lot of those Democrats elected in 2006 got knocked off, as they gradually accumulated a voting record that gave Republicans avenues of attack to make the increasingly plausible argument that those representatives had grown too liberal for their districts.
Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old former congressional aide and documentary filmmaker, didn’t have much of a record. His ads were about what he wanted to do, and were pretty nonpartisan:
How do we keep metro Atlanta’s economy growing? Just ask the entrepreneurs who do it every day. Promote high-tech and biotech research, because it drives innovation. Prioritize our college and tech schools, so we can hire young people with the right skills. And cut the wasteful spending in Washington, because the deficits are holding back our economy. I approved this message because I’ll work with anyone to keep our economy growing. I’m listening to them.
The promises in that ad script could be run by just about any Republican running in a swing district across the country.
This was the playbook that worked for Democrats in districts like this before and this was the approach Democrats thought they could use heading into 2018 to regain control of the House. Let Trump’s low approval rating and the GOP’s difficulty passing legislation speak for themselves; target the suburbs full of white-collar and middle-class whites, particularly women, and come across as the sensible alternative.
That approach was good enough to get Ossoff to 48 percent twice.
Democrats can say this morning that they always knew this was a difficult district, but you don’t spend $31 million to finish a few points behind in a difficult House district. Democrats and progressives were convinced they had a chance to win this race, and the fact that they didn’t suggests that their real problem is that they don’t actually know where they can win. They’re walking around with a false sense of their own electability — just seven months after they were convinced Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 election easily.
Yes, there’s a lot of road ahead, and there will be easier districts for Democrats to win in 2018. But when you add up all the spending and use the most recent numbers reported in the New York Times, it calculates to a $9 million advantage for the Democrats. ($23.6 million raised by Ossoff + $7.6 million spent by outside groups preferring him = $31.2 million; $4.5 million spent by Handel + $18.2 million spent by outside groups preferring her = $22.7 million.)
If you fall short in an open-seat special election, in a district Trump barely carried, with a candidate who avoids gaffes and with a giant spending advantage . . . just where the heck are you going to win?
The other big story of the night was the special election in South Carolina’s fifth congressional district, which received almost no attention because no one thought it would be competitive. Surprise! Ralph Norman, the Republican, defeated Archie Parnell, a Democrat, but only won by four points, a much smaller margin than expected. This is spurring some cries that the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fumbled by focusing so much on Georgia and barely at all on South Carolina. But if that race had gotten more attention from outside the district, it probably wouldn’t have been as competitive.
Turnout in South Carolina’s special election was extremely low, less than 90,000 votes. Even in a noncompetitive midterm year, like 2014, when Mick Mulvaney was cruising to an easy victory, more than 175,000 voted in this district. More attention would have likely brought out more unmotivated Republicans and helped Norman cushion his lead.
Hey, Remember Health Care?
Josh Kraushaar had the observation of the night when he pointed out that the “big tell” in Georgia’s special election was that Ossoff didn’t run ads against the American Health Care Act, a.k.a. “Trumpcare.” We’re constantly told that this is an abysmally unpopular piece of legislation, with oodles of impassioned critics and almost no defenders, and that this is the issue Democrats will use to hammer the GOP in the run-up to November 2018.
Back in March, Ossoff’s ad’s declared, “We can find common ground to fix Obamacare while keeping what works. Repealing it makes no sense.” But that wasn’t in his closing message, and it’s extremely difficult to believe that Ossoff and his team just forgot about it.
You Won’t Believe What the Afghan National Army’s Wardrobe Cost
The fine folks at the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction continue to do eye-opening, if depressing, work.
For the past decade, the U.S. Department of Defense bought new uniforms for the Afghan National Army . . . and used a proprietary camouflage pattern. This means the uniforms cost 40-43 percent more “than similar non-proprietary patterned uniforms used by the Afghan National Police.”
Wait, it gets worse; the decision was made in “consultation with the Afghan [minister of defense], decided to adopt the camouflage pattern containing a “forest” color scheme for ANA uniforms, despite the fact that forests cover only 2.1 percent of Afghanistan’s total land area.” In other words, this camouflage doesn’t particularly . . . camouflage the wearers.
The inspector general’s office is recommending “changing the ANA uniform to a non-proprietary camouflage pattern could save U.S. taxpayers between $68.61 million and $72.21 million over the next 10 years.”
ADDENDA: For every feminist who’s raving about the Wonder Woman movie — and as discussed on the pop-culture podcast, it is a really fun time at the movies — you can thank Treasury secretary and executive producer Steven Mnunchin. He’s helped arrange and produce financing for a lot of Hollywood movies.
And apparently even answering a light-hearted question can get him in trouble in this area:
On Friday, Mnuchin, who was a former Hollywood producer, tried to clarify remarks he made last week in an interview with Axios during which he appeared to endorse the movie when asked for a film recommendation.
“It was not my intention to make a product endorsement,” Mnuchin wrote in a letter to the head of the Office of Government Ethics seen by CNNMoney. The ethics office works with executive branch officials to avoid conflicts of interest and can recommend penalties.
“I should not have made that statement,” he wrote.
During last week’s interview, the secretary initially declined to give his preference for his favorite movie and acknowledged as a cabinet member he wasn’t “allowed to promote anything that I’m involved in.” But added quickly, “But you should all send your kids to Lego Batman.”
Senator Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, has already asked the ethics office to examine Mnuchin’s comments. Wyden said those remarks showed a “blatant disregard and disrespect to the office he serves.”
Come on, man, lighten up.