Thursday, June 22, 2017
It is understandable that the Democrats saw a ray of hope in this Georgia district after Hillary nearly took it in the 2016 Presidential election (47-48 per cent). It is a traditionally red district that looks like it is shifting demographically, even though Tom Price handily won re-election as US representative. All they had to do was find someone who would secure the Democratic vote, and maybe take 5 per cent of the disgruntled Republican vote.
Enter Jon Ossoff, a guy no one outside of his circle of friends had ever heard of. He is young, charismatic, articulate, although some saw that as a fault. He very nearly took the election in the first round of voting with 48 per cent. The Republicans had no less than six candidates to fill Price's shoes and they split the remaining 52 per cent of the vote.
Karen Handel emerged from the conservative heap to be the GOP representative. She is the mirror opposite of Ossoff in every way, relying solely on the Republican political machine to carry her to victory. Ossoff raised an unprecedented amount of cash during the campaign because Democrats across the country rallied behind him, pouring over $20 million of contributions into his coffers. The GOP belittled these efforts, claiming Ossoff wasn't representing Georgia but rather California, attaching him to Pelosi in the same way Democrats attached Handel to Trump.
Unfortunately, the second round shook out the same as the first round, with Handel getting all 51.9 per cent of the conservative vote. Ossoff remained at 48.1 per cent, despite a much higher turnout which had raised expectations of an upset in the making.
This election will be sliced and diced for the next several weeks, especially now that Pelosi is under fire for having gone 0-4 in special elections to fill vacant House seats. Granted, these were all deeply red districts, but surely the Dems could have knocked off one Republican given how poorly Trump's administration is doing.
You would never know it to hear Trump. He thinks he single-handedly won the day for Republicans with his election-day tweets. For him it was another great victory for the Trump brand! Yet, it was precisely his vulnerability in this district that Democrats were hoping to exploit.
The only thing that made this election close was that Karen Handel was "charismatically-challenged," as Bob Dornan once said of the 1996 Presidential field. Like Trump, she was an awful candidate, but conservative voters would sooner accept one of their own than they would a rank liberal outsider who didn't even live in District 6.
I'm not sure if Ossoff chose to run on his own volition or if he was put up to it by Democratic strategists. He has a fine political pedigree, having interned for John Lewis and spent five years as a national security aide to Hank Johnson, Democratic representative from Georgia's fourth district, where he lives. He also produced a documentary for BBC Three exposing the atrocities committed by IS in Iraq.
Ossoff grew up in District 6, which made him eligible to run as its representative, but from the beginning he was portrayed as an outsider, beholden to national Democratic interests and not local interests.
Oddly enough, Karen Handel was seen as closer to District 6 roots, despite having grown up in Washington, DC, and Maryland, and serving as deputy chief of staff to Marilyn Quayle, whose husband Dan was Vice-President of the United States. Karen eventually settled in the Atlanta area, serving as Georgia Secretary of State. She immediately decided to purge voter rolls, which led to voter suppression allegations from the ACLU and other organizations. No matter, Republicans were determined to secure their power base.
She's one of these groomed candidates, like Sarah Palin, put up by conservative political action committees to fill seats where they need them. Karen has far more experience than Sarah, who rose from mayor of Wasilla to governor of Alaska virtually overnight, but nevertheless Karen really has no idea what being a US representative entails.
Of course, the bar for serving in Congress has been lowered considerably over the years to look at this rogues' gallery. It no longer seems to matter how much experience you bring to the table. What's most important is that you fit the new conservative profile. Much is made of how Ossoff raised far more money on the campaign trail than Handel, but she clearly had the advantage when it came to Super PACs. Neither would have gotten where they were without outside money.
Republicans complain that much of Ossoff's contributions came from outside the state. Yet, there wasn't this outcry when Arizona Sheriff Arpaio raised over $12 million for his re-election bid last year, most of which was outside money. When a local or state election becomes politically important, the playing field expands and Republicans know that as well as anyone.
The big problem here is that the Democrats lost after having invested so much money and effort in getting young Jon Ossoff elected. It doesn't matter that the Republicans had to call in its heavy hitters and resort to terrible scare tactics to fend off the challenge in what was considered a safe district for them. Close only counts in hand grenades and horse shoes.