A special election that will truly prove special
Ifreely admit that we can spend far too much time analyzing the results of one special election, occurring in a particular district, with two particular candidates, held on a particular day more than 16 months from the 2018 midterms.
Asked to make sweeping generalizations about our turbulent contemporary politics, perhaps we should first collectively take a deep breath. The political environment will doubtless be different next fall than it is today.
Just think about how much has come to pass in the first five months of the Trump presidency. Days feel like weeks, and weeks feel like months.
But unlike the previous special House elections in Kansas, Montana and South Carolina, Tuesday’s race for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, in which Republican Karen Handel defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff by nearly 10,000 votes, or around 3 percentage points, legitimately earned the adjective “special.”
Mr. Ossoff was a bland and unremarkable young candidate who lived outside the district. He nearly won this seat in April by avoiding a runoff altogether. As the race became nationalized, he became the favored vehicle of the antiTrump “resistance” movement, even though he chose not to go after President Trump directly and offered mostly vanilla policy ideas.
We may never again see a congressional race quite like this, where a first-time candidate shatters records by raising over $23 million, mostly online and out of state. Mr. Ossoff hoped that an anti-Trump wave would carry him into office. It didn’t.
As it turns out, you must win the vote with a positive, specific agenda that mobilizes voters.
Does one seat in Congress mean that much? As it relates to legislative votes, no. But the symbolic value of an Ossoff victory would have been significant.
So while Republicans held a seat that Tom Price and Newt Gingrich have previously won, by denying Democrats a win of national significance, they gained far more than just one congressional seat.
Let’s consider an alternate reality where Mr. Ossoff wins.
It likely would have sped up House GOP retirements, forcing party officials to recruit new candidates in safe seats and raise more money.
It certainly would have led to a fundraising boom for Democrats, for the Democratic National Committee, for the House Democratic campaign arm, for liberal groups and for Democratic congressional candidates.
It would have divided Republicans, causing some to question whether they needed to distance themselves from Mr. Trump ahead of the midterms.
It would have dealt the Trump White House a political setback at an inopportune time, as the Senate health care bill is being unveiled and as the House continues to develop a tax reform bill — both ahead of the summer recess periods. The reality is far better for Republicans. Despite having a huge financial advantage, Mr. Ossoff underperformed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance in this district.
The Georgia district is exactly the type of district House Democrats will need to win back the majority in 2018: educated, marginally Republican, suburban. But Democrats after Tuesday’s vote are divided, sitting in a circular firing squad where no one can agree why they lost and who deserves blame.
So far in 2017, Republicans ran the table, going four-for-four in special elections (caused by Trump administration Cabinet appointments), and their side remains united, unified and energized.
All eyes now return to Capitol Hill, where Republicans need to take meaningful steps toward repealing and replacing Obamacare, and where the House needs to make progress toward a tax reform bill.
Legislative time is slipping away, as August is a dead month, and September will be consumed by the debt-ceiling debate and funding issues.
Chatter about canceling the August recess is picking up, and while members need and want district work time and summer vacations, the Trump White House will likely have little patience for a valuable month being given away after few major legislative accomplishments in the first five months.
Republicans earned a chance to pass major reforms, and they pulled together to prevent Democrats from gaining valuable political momentum with a win in Georgia.
Now is the time to seize this moment.