By Tharon Johnson –
For many, the election results last Tuesday were a disappointment, if not a surprise. Taking a gerrymandered, ruby-red congressional district and turning it blue was always going to be an uphill battle. Democrats were able to accomplish a great deal in a short amount of time, but it simply was not enough to overcome the demographic and electoral realities in the 6th district.
Even without a victory, the race between Jon Ossoff and now-Congresswoman Karen Handel provided some valuable lessons for both Democrats and Republicans. For Democrats, the main take-away should be that every seat is competitive. Georgia’s 6th is a seat that former Congressman Tom Price routinely won by double digits – Handel won by less than four points. The fact that Ossoff, his campaign team, and the legion of passionate volunteers that worked on their behalf could close such a wide margin in so little time is nothing short of incredible. It should be clear now that with a good candidate, a strong message, and an engaged voter base, any one of the 435 Congressional seats can be made competitive in the 2018 midterms. Of course, not every race will involve a record-breaking sum of $60 million, but most voters will be able to make up their mind without 50 flyers in their mailbox or 500 ads on their television.
However, the result of the election did not provide concrete guidelines for future races in every aspect of a Democratic campaign. Perhaps most importantly, it is still not clear if Democratic candidates would be better suited to running as moderates or as outspoken liberals. Ossoff unabashedly ran as the former, with his frequent mentions of bipartisanship, cutting government waste, and focusing on job growth in the technology sector. Without more concrete data, it is impossible to say if that strategy helped him by encouraging disaffected Republicans to cross over and vote Democratic or hurt him by discouraging more strongly liberal Democrats from showing up on Election Day. It will be difficult to know which strategy is best until the 2018 midterm results offer a broader sample size.
In the meantime, President Trump and Republicans are cheering their victory, and they should enjoy it while it lasts. In each of the special elections this year, Republican margins of victory have dwindled by at least 10 points. Given that Trump is one of the least popular presidents in modern American history and that the president’s party tends to lose seats in the House in midterm elections, Republicans are almost certainly concerned about what could happen next year. With those elections still over 16 months away and Trump’s predilection for degrading the GOP brand, it is not so far-fetched to think that Republican control of the House is at serious risk as popular opinion spirals downward. If Republicans hope to fully stay in power, they will have to better learn how to bear the burden of the Trump albatross.
Right now, Democrats should focus on renewing their resolve and learning from the experiences of losing these elections in order to win in the next ones. Democrats absolutely have the potential to regain control of the House in 2018, but only if they learn from their experiences in Kansas, Montana, South Carolina, and Georgia.
Nothing is more essential to putting a stop to Trump’s dangerous agenda than winning the House in 2018. Most Republicans have made it clear that they are perfectly willing to go along with what Trump wants, so it falls to the Democrats to be a check on his power.
All it takes is 25 seats.
Tharon Johnson is a consultant with Paramount Consulting Group and a Democrat strategist.