The Democrats lost two more special elections Tuesday, making The Resistance 0 for 4 in attempts to flip Republican-held House of Representatives districts.
This time, progressives cannot easily claim moral victories.
Republican Ralph Norman slipped by Democrat Archie Parnell in a race to replace Mick Mulvaney, who gave up his South Carolina seat to become President Donald Trump’s budget director. That result, if not the margin, was expected. The 5th Congressional District is overwhelmingly Republican.
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It was the 6th District in Georgia that both parties considered the big prize. Much has been made of how former Rep. Tom Price, a Republican who left to become secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, never broke a sweat in winning elections in the suburban Atlanta districts.
But he was a longtime incumbent, and none of his opponents ever raised close to the $23.6 million that Democrat Jon Ossoff collected — mostly from liberal precincts far outside of Georgia. And while it has been reliably Republican terrain since Jimmy Carter was president, it split nearly evenly in the 2016 presidential race. Trump carried it by only about 1.5 percentage points.
The massive amount of money spent by the candidates and outside groups — $50 million or more — succeeded in motivating voters on both sides. Turnout was high. Republican Karen Handel took 52.6 percent of the vote with 99 percent reporting.
Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, alluded to the shooting of Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) in a call for turning down the temperature in national politics.
“Karen is all business. I’ve campaigned with her, and I know how eager she is to get to work.”
“We need to find a civil way to deal with our disagreements,” she said. “Because in these United States of America, no one — no one — should ever feel their lives threatened over their political beliefs and their positions,” she said. “And I say that, ladies and gentlemen, in regards to both sides of the political aisle.”
Ossoff sounded defiant in defeat, thanking supporters and alluding to divisive politics.
“And we showed the world that in places where no one thought it was even possible to fight, we could fight,” he said. “We showed them what courage and kindness and humility are capable of.”
Like races in Kansas and Montana earlier this year, the South Carolina contest was much closer than anticipated, although turnout was exceptionally low. The Georgia race attracted more than twice as many votes.
There likely will be second-guessing among Democrats, although resources will not be among the points of discussion. The party, progressive activists and ordinary liberal voters all over the country put everything they had into the race.
The Monday morning quarterbacking likely will revolve around the race that Ossoff ran. The 30-year-old documentary filmmaker and former congressional aide started out by promises to send a message to Trump. After the first round of voting, though, Ossoff shifted his message to fit the district.
Ossoff avoided talk of Trump and instead talked a lot about economic development, turning the district into Georgia’s version of the Silicon Valley, safeguarding the environment and improving education. He said he hadn’t given any thought to whether he’d support House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for speaker.
In many ways, he could have been mistaken for a moderate Republican. That approach did not go over well with the Bernie Sanders wing of the party. The independent democratic socialist senator from Vermont famously said he was not sure if Ossoff was a progressive.
Ossoff’s close-but-no-cigar finish likely will exacerbate the growing rift within the Democratic Party about whether to run as pragmatists — particularly in centrist districts — or break hard to the left on issues such as universal health care and impeaching Trump.
Handel received congratulations from a number of figures, starting with Trump, who tweeted: “Huge win for President Trump and GOP in Georgia Congressional Special Election.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) also chimed in.
“Karen is all business. I’ve campaigned with her, and I know how eager she is to get to work,” he said in a statement. “I’m excited to have her as a partner in the House of Representatives, and I look forward to working with her as we tackle our country’s most pressing problems.”
The pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, which helped contact 65,000 on behalf of Handel, also praised the result.
“We congratulate pro-life champion Karen Handel on her historic victory tonight,” organization President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a prepared statement. “Although America’s largest abortion business, Planned Parenthood, spent six figures in support of her opponent Jon Ossoff, Karen’s record of courageous leadership won the day.”