Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wednesday Morning Quarterbacking

-- Democrats are now 0-4 in special election bids.

Democrats tried an inoffensive moderate message in Georgia. They ran a banjo-strumming populist in Montana. They called in the cavalry in South Carolina and tried to catch their foe sleeping through a long-shot in Kansas.

None of it worked.

In the special elections for House seats vacated by Republicans who wound up in President Donald Trump's Cabinet, Democrats went 0-for-4.

What follows there is the predictable gloating from Republicans and excuse-making from people like Kos.  Think Progress offers more of that 'better luck next time' for the Donkeys.

Some of us have lived through this before.  And some of us are so old that we can remember when a Blue Dog managed to win a special election in a deep red suburban Congressional district.  Does the name 'Nick Lampson' ring a bell?

-- "Most expensive race in House history cost $60 million — but there’s little evidence minds were changed".

For months, the district has been flooded with every kind of campaign advocacy imaginable: phone calls, mailers, television commercials, lawn signs and ads showing up on every online platform you can think of. Most households have been receiving multiple phone calls every day and multiple home visits from canvassers every week, and everyone has been exposed to more advertising than they can ever remember seeing. I counted 31 pieces of campaign related mail in just one week. Some residents are even getting campaign texts on their cell phones.

This is because of the astonishing amount of money spent on the race. A typical competitive House race sees a total of about US$5 million spent, and the previous record for the most expensive House race ever was $20 million. During the Georgia 6th special election, the two candidates together spent about $33 million, and outside groups added about another $27 million on top of that. That nearly $60 million total represents almost $100 for every man, woman and child who lives in the district. It is the most expensive U.S. House race in the country’s history.

What’s interesting is what all this money and activity did, and didn’t do.

-- Original: "Most expensive race in House history turns out nearly 58 percent of Georgia district’s voters".  (Interesting for those who don't click on links how the different headlines create an instant bias, isn't it?)

Democrats have some reason to be optimistic.

In the special election that took place in South Carolina’s 5th District on the same day as Georgia’s, Republican Ralph Norman received 51.1 percent of the vote in a district where Trump got 57.3 percent just five months earlier.

In April, Kansas Republican Ron Estes received 52.5 percent of the vote in a district where Trump got 60.4 percent.

In May, Montana Republican Greg Gianforte got 49.9 percent where Trump had won 56 percent.

And in a New York state legislative district where Trump won 60 percent of the vote, a republican candidate polled only 42 percent last month.

On the other hand, the Georgia 6th special election bucks that trend. The 10 Republicans collectively beat Trump’s district vote share of 48.3 percent by two points in the first round of voting, and Handel beat it by four points in the runoff.

Did all that caysh the DCCC and MoveOn and the rest of the Democratic establishment pour into southwest Atlanta motivate Republicans (in an R+21 district) as well as Democrats to vote?  Did they -- in what would be a stunning verdict against them and their strategy and tactics -- deliver a narrow victory for Karen Handel?  The SC outcome tells the tale (and so does No More Mister Nice Blog):

Here was Dave Wasserman of FiveThirtyEight not long before the race was called, on the site's live blog of today's two House special elections:

It’s ... legitimately possible that South Carolina’s result could wind up closer than Georgia’s, which would be astounding.
Here was Wasserman about an half hour before that:
If [Democrat Archie] Parnell loses South Carolina by 4 or 5 points, lots of Democratic activists will point fingers at the party’s hierarchy for not getting more involved.... But it’s possible that Parnell is doing well tonight because he wasn’t hyped, not despite it.
Parnell has also been declared a loser of his race -- but he lost by only 3.2 points in a deep-red district. Right now, Ossoff is trailing Republican Karen Handel by 5.2 points in a district that's also solidly red, but where Hillary Clinton made it a squeaker last November.

To be clear, NMMNB blames the media.  Specifically the conservative media, which is certainly at the root of the problem for Democrats, but sadly not something they can overcome in the next 18 months with a certain generation of voters inculcated on Rush Limbaugh.

If Democrats actually did better in the race that didn't get national attention, I worry that it means Democrats struggle to overcome the relentless, 24/7/365 demonization of their party in the right-wing media, which is basically the mainstream media in much of white America. The South Carolina race was ignored by the rest of the country, which means that allegedly nasty nationwide Democrats were never a factor.

-- Josh Marshall has thoughts.  They're more cautiously optimistic for Team Blue's chances of taking back the House in 2018, but echo much of what's been said above.

-- Playing a different blame game, Matthew Sheffield at Salon points toward the GOP's late tactic in GA-6 in suggesting Ossoff's loss might in part be on Nancy Pelosi.

Thankfully, nobody that I can find has publicly accused the Russians for hacking the election.  Update: But others besides Brad Friedman and Greg Palast have picked up the hacked voting machines angle.

-- David Atkins at Washington Monthly thinks Dems should abandon the Romney Caucus and go back after the Obama voters who voted for Trump.  With aggressively populist and progressive politics and candidates.

In July of 2016, Senator Chuck Schumer made a statement that will go down as one of the greatest political miscalculations in modern history: “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.

This strategy undergirded every decision of the doomed Clinton campaign, from ignoring the white working class in her Rust Belt firewall, to chasing suburban Republican women in Missouri and the South. It is a strategy that establishment Democratic operatives continue to pursue to this day.
That same strategy may well have cost Democrats a House seat in last night’s special elections, where Democrat Jon Ossoff underperformed expectations in a loss in Georgia’s 6th district, while the more ideologically aggressive Democrat Archie Parnell dramatically overperformed expectations in a loss in South Carolina’s 5th.

The two districts in play last night that could not have better mirrored the dilemma facing Democrats over whether to pursue Trump-averse Republican suburban voters, or working class whites and Obama-Trump switchers. Georgia’s 6th District is full of the former: a traditionally heavy Republican district, it veered away from Donald Trump because its residents are less attuned to Trump’s economic populism and—it was believed—his appeals to bigotry. These are the very voters Clinton and Schumer salivated over, and the national Democratic Party pushed very hard for the seat, spending upwards of $5 million.

South Carolina’s 5th district is much more rural and hardscrabble, and was much more favorable to Trump. Establishment Democrats mostly ignored the race, spending no money there.
In GA-06, Jon Ossoff ran a deliberately anti-ideological campaign. Centrist think tank Third Way bragged that Ossoff used a “centrist message aimed at attracting disillusioned Republican voters.” South Carolina’s Parnell, despite his Goldman Sachs background, ran a much more hard-charging campaign of Democratic values.


The lesson of the special elections around the country is clear: Democratic House candidates can dramatically outperform Clinton in deep red rural areas by running ideological, populist campaigns rooted in progressive areas. Poorer working class voters who pulled the lever for Trump can be swayed back to the left in surprisingly large numbers—perhaps not enough to win in places like Kansas, Montana and South Carolina, but certainly in other more welcoming climes. Nor is there a need to subvert Democratic principles of social justice in order to accomplish this: none of the Democrats who overperformed Clinton’s numbers in these districts curried favor with bigots in order to accomplish it.

Don't look for most Congressional Democratic candidates running in 2018 to get it.  It would be great if some Green candidates would take this ball and run with it, but in Texas they have to get back on the ballot first.


Gadfly said...

No Green ran in the first round in GA-6 out of more than a dozen candidates.

Harry Hamid said...

I've thought before about how the Democrats seem to do better in races that don't get nationalized. The one that jumps to mind is Al Franken's race back in 2008, which was obviously a squeaker. Franken managed to somehow fly below the national radar - had the race gone national that time, with Limbaugh and company constantly jumping on this elitist Hollywood type bringing his TV values to the Senate, he probably would have gotten squashed.

But I don't think Franken even did an interview on national television that time (and in fact he's just started to over the past couple of years, now that he's feeling safe in his seat).

Granted, he had the cover of a Presidential election that time.

Still, it seems like when races are nationalized, we end up with ads that show the Democratic candidate juxtaposed with a pic of bin Laden or something, and they don't do well in those situations.