Three weeks ago, it was the race to change everything. To win back the Congress, Democrats had to win back seats like the 6th Congressional District in Georgia. All the political and media eyes in the nation were on the seat. You could be forgiven for thinking you dreamed it all because the moment Jon Ossoff lost the national media pretended it had never built up those expectations.
First, the media was right. To win back the House of Representatives, Democrats will need to win seats like this one. It is suburban, well educated, and mostly white. It was in the two dozen best performing Republican districts for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats must win back two dozen seats. Second, one can only extrapolate so much from a special election. Both sides should be careful.
With almost two weeks distance now from the race, let us consider just how badly things went for the Democrats. In November of last year, the Democratic opponent to Congressman Tom Price spent literally nothing on the seat, other than his qualifying fee, and picked up more votes than Jon Ossoff got. Ossoff spent $30 million.
It is true that special election turnout is lower than a presidential election. But it is also true that Ossoff’s team spent $30 million to identify every Democrat in the district to turn out and fewer turned out than last November. He did this against Karen Handel who raised only $4 million. It turned into a David and Goliath struggle with Ossoff as the Goliath.
One of the little noticed issues was Ossoff’s door knocking campaign. Demographically, he could not win the seat with just Democrats. There are not enough of them in the district. He needed to persuade Republicans to support him. That district has a sizable number of Republicans who do not care for the president. Instead of targeting those voters and getting them out, Ossoff’s campaign and outside Democratic groups knocked on every Republican’s door. They raised awareness of the race with people they should have avoided.
Ultimately though, the Democrats made a fatal miscalculation about the race that ruined them. They presumed President Trump is toxic in the 6th District. To be sure, he is not liked. His popularity rating hovers at around 40 percent in that district with an unfavorable rating of 60 percent. Being disliked, however, is not being hated. There is a difference. The president is not liked, but Nancy Pelosi is hated in the district. The president is not toxic. Pelosi is.
Republicans ran ample ads tying Ossoff to Pelosi. He would be San Francisco’s proxy vote. He would be a yes man to Pelosi. Combine that attack with Ossoff not actually living in the district and the race amounted to a $30 million engagement ring for Jon Ossoff’s girlfriend. He could not overcome those attacks. Instead of trying to define himself differently, he tried to define Karen Handel. But she had won that district several times in several races and everyone knew her. He could not define her, but she could define him.
Moving forward, Democrats need to understand that just because they hate the president, there are a lot of Americans who really hate Democrats still. They see the Democrats as out of touch, left-wing, culture warriors more interested in bathroom issues than job creation. But the GOP needs to pay attention, too. This district was not a good fit for Democrats, but the GOP is turning off its base and turning off independent voters. November of 2018 is a long ways off.
Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.