The failure of Jon Ossoff to win the special election in GA-06 is a damning indictment of the organizational and campaigning weaknesses of the Democratic Party.
From leading the race by 6 percentage points to losing today in 2 weeks? That takes a serious amount of organizational and messaging incompetence.
Ossoff played the last 10 days like an ultra-careful centrist, trying not to lose. Karen Handel went-all out with ad blitzes and mud-slinging. This was the 2000 Presidential Election all over again.
The Democratic Party has to understand and act on a fundamental reality. If you run down the middle of the road, you will get run over. Every time. Why would people vote for GOP lite when they can get the genuine article?
Here’s the underlying issue that the Democratic Party refuses to address. If you want to get out the vote, you have to run candidates that excite your natural supporters. The collection of milquetoast candidates that the Democratic Party often ends up with in elections do not excite the party base, nor do they impress young people, who will be a key voting group to be energized. Leaving aside ideology, the Republican Party currently does a far better job than the Democratic Party at running candidates that excite their core supporters. They seldom interfere in primary processes, unlike the Democratic Party, which never seems to be able to shake of the machine politics pathology of trying to fix the process to get the result that they think they need. Fixing primary processes may please centrists and establishment figures, but it sends a terrible and de-motivating message to party loyalists and young people, whose tolerance for cynical bullshit is still low, unlike the tolerance levels of the older and more cynical.
In addition the Democratic Party persistently falls prey to the “freezing in sight of the finish line” pathology, and I have seen it happen dozens of times.
1. New candidate is trumpeted by party at start of campaign, jumps out to big lead, looks to have race comfortably in hand.
2. Then suddenly, starting 3 weeks from polling day, candidate suddenly starts to act like they have to capture middle-of-the-road voters. They start talking all manner of conciliatory centrist guff.
3. Opponent goes all out on ad blitzes, FUD and all manner of mud-slinging.
4. Leading candidate determines that “say nothing and take the high road” is the right approach because it makes him or her seem to be statesmanlike and mature. Opposing candidate meanwhile is saying “***k that I’m going to damn well win”.
5. Candidate’s lead shrinks as fear of making a mistake adds to the “don’t piss anybody off” message being whispered in their ear by worried party grandees.
6. Would-be-supporters who were going to vote for candidate decide to not bother because candidate is a wimp. Uncommitted voters look at candidate and opponent and vote for opponent because damm it, they look like a winner.
7. Come election day, our former field-leading hero finishes second.
The inquest usually concludes that candidate was not “moderate” enough, ignoring the reality that at one point the candidate had a large lead, so was a good match most of the way.
The “not moderate enough” verdict is the best one to avoid further unpleasant scrutiny, since it places the blame on the primary electors, not the campaigning or messaging, which usually falls prey to risk-aversion dictated by the party establishment, whose attitude is “we write the checks, you do as we say”.
A new variation on this explanation that I am already hearing is that Jon Ossoff could never have won the seat, since he is not a Republican. The implication being that the seat was always unwinnable by a Democrat. If that was the case, how the hell did tracking polls consistently show Ossoff with a significant lead? A hopeless cause is when you are always behind in the polls, not when you lead by a significant margin until the last few days (see Dais, Wendy). This race was winnable. Ossoff, for reasons that look all too familiar, was unable to hold on to his lead.
If the message is that the Republicans managed to energize their supporters to get out at the last minute and vote, well, time for the Democratic Party to learn how to energize their supporters. (HINT – They won’t do that by telling the candidate to shut up and start trying to not piss off middle-of-the-road voters. You have to get your natural supporters to come out on polling day).