• Daniel Ethan Finneran

The Democrats Went Down To Georgia

June 2017

Democrats went down to Georgia—they were looking for a seat to steal. Now they’re in a bind, cuz’ they’re way behind—bailing water so as not to keel. Fire in the DNC…Run boys, run! Handel’s in the house and the election’s done.

Dust off the banjo, cue the chorus, and ready yourself for the yawps. The house is aflame with frenetic Democrats searching for answers in defeat. This, after the wrenching defeat of their upstart, Jon Ossoff—a thirty-year-old newcomer—by Republican Karen Handel in Georgia’s 6th district special election. The election was held to replace current Health and Human Services Secretary, Dr. Tom Price’s congressional seat. By an approximate four-point margin, Handel was able to fend off the juvenescent Ossoff. The campaign was a bitter contest that piqued national interest, which in turn peeved local Georgians at home.

Ossoff particularly benefitted from the national attention and nearly won because of it. Funneled into his political purse were donations from what seemed to be every state except Georgia. His coffers were filled coast-to-coast by New York city-slickers and L.A. starlets and every bleeding-heart, hell-bent Liberal in between. Due to this influx of cash from seemingly every corner of the U.S., the final price tag on this campaign was astounding; an estimated $50 million was donated, the majority going to Ossoff.

It was a bit gratuitous (this election raised and consequently spent the most money in American history) but I suppose no expense is too exorbitant when a Congressional seat is up for sale. Democrats, however, saw this as being more than just a normal election. As likely is the case for all to come, they saw this campaign as a referendum on President Trump. Much of the campaign’s intrigue and national appeal rested on this, as neither candidate was especially enticing. Handel, the Republican contender, served as Georgia’s Secretary of State and the Vice President of the Susan G. Komen breast cancer charity. Ossoff, for all intents and purposes a tyro at thirty years of age, took a degree at the London School of Economics, produced a documentary film, and worked for some time on Capitol Hill. Neither had an alluring or sexy personality, the likes of a Sanders or Trump we’ve become accustomed to. Rather, quotidian competence was the best each could offer.

Fertile though the ground might’ve been for a Democratic steal, Ossoff was unlikely to win. He was contesting in an affluent, conservative Atlanta suburb with a history of choosing Republicans. Making his chances for success even less propitious, Ossoff wasn’t living in the district he sought to represent. Although born and raised in said Atlanta suburb, he’s lately been living just beyond its county line while his girlfriend attends medical school. And in a provincial election like this, provincialism is all that matters.

Handel locked in on this point and wouldn’t relent. She did so to great effect. She strode out of the polling both with an “I Voted” sticker on her lapel—an acute reminder of what Ossoff lacked. That sticky accoutrement was the final thrust of her attack. In debates, she painted him as a modern-day carpetbagger, one traipsing into town to steal what isn’t his. This message resonated with voters and her victory proves it.

Handel won support by keeping her scope relatively local. She didn’t miss her chances to inveigh against House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi specifically or the “liberal elite” generally, but she wasn’t fixated on these things. Her focus was rooted always in Atlantans and their hopes for a congresswoman. Ossoff, on the other hand, thought it best to broaden the election’s scope. From the start, he castigated President Trump and his agenda. This was a litmus test, in a way, to see if well-to-do Conservatives would bristle against Trump. These people, for the large part, aren’t the laboring classes of reactionaries found in Forsyth or Cobb counties, who more likely pledge allegiance to Trump’s “base”. Ossoff tried to shine a light on the president’s low favorability rating (currently at 55%) and reflect it upon Handel.

The approach failed. One cannot be a candidate nor a party, for that matter, if one’s only rousing message is that of the dissident. While it can galvanize some, it will never be enough. There is a ceiling above, and this type of message, to the exclusion of all others, will never break it. Ossoff and the Democrats must learn this lesson. Pouting won’t be enough; diatribes won’t suffice. There must be on offer a new and better way, instead of complaints and a jejune agenda.

If Democrats are paying attention, four states already have clarified this in the age of Trump: Kansas, Montana, South Carolina, and Georgia. Sure, all are traditionally GOP-friendly states, but these are untraditional times. Each has held a special election to replace a Trump administration appointee, and in each, a Democrat has lost. To the degree that it’s consolatory, though, Democrats have lost by surprisingly slim margins. In South Carolina, for one, the Republican won by no more than five points. This is astounding, considering how staunchly and deeply red the state tends to be.

But it’s not enough, and being “close” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, less so in political campaigns. The Democrats are at a crossroads. They’re at a nodus, a life crisis, an inflection point, if you will. They stand to succeed like never before with the approach of 2018. They’ll only do so if they can build upon an ideal; demolishing the old guard won’t do. They must commit to being architects instead of obstructionists, galvanizers instead of bellyachers. If they don’t, the midterms will be grim and a sad song will be theirs to sing.

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