Post 18: An Early Christmas Present for Democrats: Jon Ossoff’s Loss in Georgia’s Sixth District

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Jon Ossoff campaigning before the special election for Georgia’s sixth district. (Daniel Schwartz, Ossoff for Congress).

Under normal circumstances, a US House of Representatives race garners little attention, and requires only moderate financial support.

This week’s special election for the 6th District of Georgia, between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel, shattered those norms. It was the most expensive House election in history- Democrats spent $23 million on the race [1]– and received national media attention.

Despite the immense funding and public regard, Handel won the open seat- leaving Democrats smoldering with displeasure. The chance to capture a Republican stronghold had been missed. Tom Price, who vacated the seat to serve in President Trump’s cabinet, routinely won by 20 points. [2] Ossoff only lost by three. [3]

Ossoff isn’t completely to blame for the loss. While only 30 years old, and never having held public office, Ossoff raised nearly $2 million and had some six thousand volunteers pledge their support for him. [4] He also ran a hard campaign- going door to door and generating enthusiasm in a traditionally red district.

That said, the Democratic Party’s vague economic policy, and estrangement from lower and middle class voters, is largely culpable for Ossoff’s loss and the lowly state of the party.

Over the course of the presidential campaign, and the year 2017, Democrats have failed to crystalize their message on jobs and the economy. Thus far, Democrats have leaned on President Obama’s economic successes- low unemployment and a booming stock market- and promised further development and job growth.

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Karen Handel won a close race against Jon Ossoff in the Georgia special election. (CNN.com).

However, the Democratic Party has not tailored that message to Americans living outside of the coastal metropolises. Many of these people, working class and low to middle income earners, feel excluded from recent job growth that seemingly favors highly educated cosmopolitans. Unprepared for the contemporary job market, they have not reaped the benefits of the recovery.

This provided Donald Trump with a chance to seize the moment. Though arguably without an economic plan, he reached those dispossessed voters, gained their trust, and promised them economic salvation.

Still, in rather perverse fashion, Ossoff’s defeat is an early Christmas present for Democrats- in the form of a wakeup call. The Party must solidify its message on universal job growth, vocational re-training and Obamacare reform to reacquire congressional seats.

More importantly, Democrats need to reconnect with rural and lower-middle income voters. This requires a strong commitment on the ground, pressing the flesh and engaging constituent concerns. Also, the Party must actively finance, and campaign for, local and state level candidates to build a solid voter base.

So, the Democratic Party should be hopeful after Ossoff’s loss. But that hope only rings true if the party realizes their early gift under the Christmas tree, and re-engages the entire American public before next year’s midterm elections.

[1] Bradner, E. (2017). Republican Karen Handel Wins Georgia House Special Election. CNN.com. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/20/politics/georgia-house-results-ossoff-handel/index.html.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Bethea, C. (2017). Can This Democrat Win the Georgia Sixth? The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/can-this-democrat-win-the-georgia-sixth.

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