There are no participation trophies, moral victories or points for second best in an election. There's simply a winner and a loser. One candidate winds up with a new job, the other goes home. In that sense, Democrats were the clear losers of the special election in Georgia's 6th Congressional District. However, before Republicans get too lit about their victory, they shouldn't forget the fact they usually win this seat by double digits. Neither party should feel good about where they are right now and both should be concerned about 2018.
Let's start with the Republicans. Losing a race in a historically red district would have been a major blow to both the party and the president. Luckily for the GOP, their voters in GA-06 seemed willing to give the party a bit more time to push through the agenda they expected when they put Republicans in control of both Congress and the White House. Republicans got the benefit of the doubt this time, but it's clear they're skating on thin ice. The most recent polling shows President Trump is slowly starting to lose support from his base and leadership in Congress hasn't shown the ability to enact the major health care and tax reforms they promised during the last election. A big reason Democrats weren't able to pick off any of the special elections so far is because despite their enthusiasm, Republicans still turned out in solid numbers. If legislative inaction continues, or if the president takes a major hit from the special counsel investigation, a frustrated and demoralized Republican Party could lead to a wave election for Democrats in 2018.
Now, let's take a look at the Democrats. As the great NFL coach Bill Parcells once said, "You are what your record says you are." The recent record for the Democrats in any type of election is dismal and the failure to rack up a win in the Georgia special election prevented them from taking the first step in changing that narrative. This wasn't going to be easy, but it was certainly a winnable seat. Did picking a candidate that didn't live in the district hurt? Sure. However, if Republicans really wanted to send a message to Washington he could have won despite that. The problem the Democrats face right now runs much deeper than flawed candidates. While the national media tried to make this race a referendum on President Trump, within the district he was much less of a factor. Neither candidate spent a lot of time focusing on him and even if Ossoff had, it wouldn't have been a game-changer. It's true these same Republican voters barely chose Trump over Clinton in November, but the idea they'd abandon their party and vote for the opposition in a race they didn't view as a referendum on the president was a miscalculation. What Democrats needed to do was give these voters a better reason to vote for them than just "send a message to Trump". The same goes for 2018. If you're going to try to peel off support that would normally go to the GOP, you have to have alternative ideas and solutions that those voters can get behind. An alternative health care plan, an alternative tax reform plan, an alternative immigration plan, etc. Right now those plans either don't exist or they weren't communicated in the GA-06 race. Rather than simply being the party of opposition, they need to become the party of alternative options. I'd also argue that promoting options too far to the left, something many progressives mused about after this loss, would be counterproductive. That has the potential to alienate some independents and invigorate the Right, resulting no net gain for Democrats.
The bottom line here is that while Democrats have over-performed in some of these special elections, the GOP still found a way to win all of them. Democrats have a lot of work to do in advance of 2018 and Republicans have a lot of governing to do ahead of the midterms. How Democrats shape their policy plans and messaging and how Republicans legislate will dictate who has the advantage next year, but the sheer amount of unpredictability we're facing makes it impossible to offer any reasonable predictions for 2018. While this special election was certainly interesting, it was simply a snapshot of where we are right now.
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