The Real Winners After Georgia

Its Neither Candidate...

Originally Posted in US News

By: David Catanese

Triumphant Republicans are boasting that Karen Handel's win in Georgia's special House election is the ultimate validation that the backlash against President Donald Trump is Washington-centric and overblown.

Disappointed Democrats remain convinced the lesson from the loss is that if they continue to widen the competitive map going forward, they're bound to score victories in unexpected places given how they've been able to trim margins in GOP-favoring districts.

They both may be on to something.

Seventeen months ahead of the 2018 midterms, the electoral terrain remains unsettled, with neither party holding a clear and clean advantage.

But one party that will undoubtedly become a winner as a result of this increasingly competitive environment is the class of political consultants that makes a living on such campaigns.

"I think it's going to keep a lot of people busy and I think it's going to start earlier than we've ever seen," says Doug Thornell, a Democratic political consultant who has worked at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Republicans are already pointing to their adept and effective use of financial resources, which helped them bail out mediocre candidates like Handel, Rep. Greg Gianforte of Montana and Rep. Ron Estes of Kansas.

In Georgia, once national Republicans saw Democrat Jon Ossoff begin to make gains with low-propensity voters in the final weeks of the race, they poured additional resources into the contest as a countermeasure.

"We pivoted and targeted those 20,000 voters with mail, with phones, on doors and targeting them online as well," Republican National Committee political director Juston Johnson said on a Wednesday conference call that amounted to a victory lap.

Meanwhile, Democrats are continuing to rally their donors by pointing out how close they've come, outperforming 2016 results in Georgia's 6th Congressional District by almost 20 points and South Carolina's 5th Congressional District by 17.

"The lesson from last night is clear: If we want to win in more places, we need to compete in more places. Can I count on you to keep me out on the trail supporting Democrats?" former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley wrote in a fundraising solicitation blasted out Wednesday morning.

Emily's List, the advocacy group that backs Democratic female candidates who support abortion rights, sent its own request for money by noting "there are 71 Republican-held districts across the country that are bluer than Georgia's 6th."

While the two parties squabble over the long-term meaning of special elections that resulted in closer contests for Democrats but still a sweep of wins for Republicans, it's already apparent both sides will be armed for bear going forward, with unprecedented money and engagement from a range of players.

"You have to anticipate a massive battlefield in 2018, and probably the most amount of money spent in House races that we've ever seen – across the committees, candidates and super PACs," Thornell says.

With Democrats needing 24 seats to wrest back House control next year, he foresees the party eyeing close to double that number of potential prospects, at least at the outset.

"I think the cost of each race will eclipse what it's been in the past. I think you're going to see many more districts in play. I think you're going to see a lot of districts that look safe and then become potentially competitive later on," he says.

This, of course means, the hiring of more campaign managers, digital directors, field organizers, and ad makers – earlier and in higher numbers.

For instance, in South Carolina on Wednesday, Democratic candidate Joe Cunningham, a Charleston-based attorney and former ocean engineer, announced his campaign against GOP Rep. Mark Sanford. Cunningham immediately made a splash by refusing to back House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for speaker of the House if his party retakes the chamber. Unsurprisingly, he requested donations from those who agree.

Run for Something, a group that aims to enlist young progressive candidates, said its daily recruitment sign-up number doubled between when polls closed in Georgia on Tuesday night and after the results were finalized.

And the Congressional Leadership Fund, the House GOP's main super PAC, set a goal of raising $100 million during the 2018 cycle, and has already been running digital advertisements in about 20 competitive House districts.

The lesson: More competitive races at one time will require more money. But that's the recipe to withstand the resistance.

"It took a lot of cash to win [Georgia] and it will take a lot more next fall, but now CLF and the NRCC can go back to their donors and say, 'Thank you, we need more' – with proof in hand that massive amounts of money can help beat back these headwinds," says Andy Seré, a GOP consultant and former National Republican Congressional Committee staffer.


It's an indication that while Republicans are understandably bolstered by their spate of isolated electoral success, they are taking little for granted and are quietly aware that Trump could continue to be a drag in certain districts, especially if the president's approval rating remains slumping under 40 percent.

"The path to taking back the majority is narrower than Democrats think, but certainly not impossible," says Ken Spain, a former NRCC communications director. "For Republicans, they need to be aware that without delivering legislative victories for the president, the environment will only get tougher."

Privately, GOP strategists are already conceding the loss of up to more than a dozen seats, but believe the environment would have to crater considerably further for Democrats to reach the magic number of 24.

Another complicating factor is that Democrats are facing their own internal party scuffle about why they haven't been able to flip a House seat given all of Trump's political problems.

Unite Here, a labor union with more than 200,000 members in the U.S. in Canada, complained in a statement Wednesday that "hope is not a strategy and resisting is not a plan." The group faulted the Democratic Party apparatus for losses, saying it is "out of excuses."

Rachel Gumpert, a spokeswoman for the group, tells U.S. News that Ossoff essentially conducted a moderate campaign that muddled the clear contrasts available to him. "[Ossoff] ran away from directly confronting the problems in Trump's economic policies and instead lost the opportunity to stand as a clear alternative to those by trying to appeal to the middle," Gumpert says.

The Nation, one of the leading publications for liberals, also posted a story with a headline blaring that Ossoff's loss "should be a lesson to corporate Democrats" and "it's time to bury the Panera Bread strategy."

Conversely, it could be argued that Ossoff would've never come as close as he did – 4 points – if he had campaigned as a Bernie Sanders Democrat in a historically red, suburban Atlanta district.

It's this simmering tension between moderates and progressives in the party that could produce a series of primary matchups that consume resources, intensify internal divisions and bolster Republican prospects.

There's also an emerging debate about how much money Democrats should dump into the shinier federal races versus down-ballot state and local campaigns, which conservatives quietly but diligently focused on during President Barack Obama's tenure.

Inevitably, there will be seats aggressively heralded by campaign consultants as potential conversions that will remain uphill battles, no matter how far Trump falls. Some consultants will convince these candidates that just enough money – a million more here, a couple hundred thousand there – could be all the difference between heading to Congress or the dustbin of history.

But there's a reason House incumbents have a 97 percent re-election rate.

And there's an incentive for campaign hands to argue more races are competitive than they really appear to be.

Ossoff might've lost, but having raised $24 million, not all Democrats involved in that race ended up losers.

Sniped one GOP operative watching the race from a distance: "I wish I was Ossoff's media consultant."

Read 203 times Last modified on Thursday, 22 June 2017 23:17
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