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Republicans are gloating over two wins Tuesday—by 52-48 and 51-49—in “landslide” districts that no one would expect to even consider the other party. Democrats are soothing themselves by the close margin, hoping it portends wins in 2018. After all, in all these districts this year, Dems increased their totals by 15 or 20 percent. That’s still losing in a “landslide” district, but what happens when the GOP only has a ten point voter advantage in many districts next year?

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Of course, part of the reason for the outcomes was that the GOP had horrible candidates. We had the guy from Jersey who beat up a reporter the day before the election in deep-red Montana (he pled guilty, but jail time was suspended). Then, there was the dithering loser in deep-red Georgia, who fumbled her way to barely winning. Meanwhile, the Dem candidate in deep-red South Carolina was witty, with a clever commercial based on Netflix’ House of Cards. And they had a charismatic guitar playing good ol’ boy in a cowboy hat in Montana. He ran against the awkward New Englander pugilist.

But the Democrats have repeatedly proven that they just do not know how politics work. They poured all their resources into Montana—and did better than expected in deep-red Kansas, where they didn’t really try. And on Tuesday, Dems poured a record amount of money to support Ossoff, while ignoring South Carolina, where Archie Parnell lost by a razor-thin margin of 51-49.

However, Democrats are feeling enlivened by all these losses. Why? Because they are looking to find what might work next year.

Jon Ossoff’s loss Tuesday night in a hyper-competitive Georgia race — the most expensive in history — “better be a wake up call for Democrats,” tweeted Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, an emerging Democratic leader.

“We need a genuinely new message, a serious jobs plan that reaches all Americans, and a bigger tent,” he wrote, “not an smaller one. Focus on the future.”

The losses aren’t all doom and gloom for Democrats. The party got closer than it has in decades to winning some of the four seats — a sign they’ve closed their gaps with Republicans in both suburban and rural areas and in 2018 will have a broad playing field with dozens of more competitive districts.
“We have to remember that these elections are being held in districts hand-picked by Trump — districts where he created vacancies because he thought they were ‘can’t lose’ seats,” said Ron Klain, a Democratic operative who was chief of staff to vice presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore. . .

After scoring their latest victories, Republicans were spiking the football [but]. . .In a memo, National Republican Congressional Committee communications director Matt Gorman said Democrats have a “competence problem” and said there were no moral victories to be had. “Fawning press stories or bluster doesn’t win a single vote. There comes a time where a party must put up or shut up,” he said in the memo.

Meanwhile, PBS offers five takeaways after the Georgia election.

[1] Just being anti-Trump isn’t enough
Jon Ossoff’s campaign in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District was not devoid of policy or substance. . .But at its core, Ossoff’s campaign — for many of his supporters, donors and national Democrats — was about one thing and one thing only: opposing Trump. And that wasn’t enough.
[2] Special elections aren’t the best predictors
For all the attention on the Ossoff-Handel race, it’s worth remembering that it was only one contest — and a special election at that. Special elections are a window into a narrow slice of the electorate, comprised mainly of hardcore supporters on both sides who don’t seem to suffer from election fatigue.
[3] Republicans can breathe easy. Sort of.
Top Republicans campaigned for Handel, including Trump. The party invested political capital in the race, and it paid off. From a purely symbolic perspective, the outcome helped Republicans maintain their undefeated streak during Trump’s first months in office.
[4] For Democrats especially, redistricting matters
In the midterm elections next year, Democrats will undoubtedly target the 23 Republican House seats that Clinton carried in 2016. But even if they won every single one, that still wouldn’t be enough for them to flip the House. . .the Democrats’ outcry over gerrymandered districts will grow louder in the wake of Ossoff’s loss.
[5] Money talks
The Georgia election shattered spending records for a House race. Some $42 million was spent on television and radio advertisements alone. The overall cost of the race is expected to exceed $50 million. The previous record for a house race was $29 million. . .If Democrats hadn’t poured so much money into the contest, would Ossoff have lost by as many points as Price’s opponent last year?

Meanwhile, NBC has it’s own “lessons” from the Georgia special election.

1. Republicans know how to win on their turf
What catapulted Handel to victory in GA-6 was the simple fact that the Republican base got engaged. Indeed, the 48 percent that Ossoff received last night EXACTLY matches the 48 percent he won back in April, which means that Handel consolidated the GOP vote

2. Democrats have little to show for their anti-Trump resistance
Democrats threw everything they had into GA-6, and Republicans still won. This is only going to embolden Trump — and perhaps also Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on health care, as well as with the NRCC on retirements.

3. Nancy Pelosi remains a big drag on Democrats in red states/districts
While national Republicans threw the kitchen sink at Ossoff, perhaps their most potent — and consistent — attack was linking him to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Democrats have to admit they have a Pelosi problem, especially in red states and districts.

4. Democrats are out-performing what they did in 2016
So here’s the silver lining for Democrats from last night: They are out-performing where they were in 2016. . .“Democratic candidates in these [special] elections have won an average of 68 percent of the votes Hillary Clinton won in their districts, while Republican candidates have won an average of 54 percent of Trump’s votes.”

5. Republicans had to spend big to hold on to these seats
Yes, Jon Ossoff raised a considerable amount of money in Georgia. But. . . the total GOP price tag (NRCC, CLF, RNC) for these four special elections was at least $19 million, versus at least $7 million for Democrats

And, finally, Politico has it’s own “lessons.”

[1] If the House is in play, Democrats still need to prove it
–for all the grassroots energy and torrid fundraising, Democrats still haven’t proved they can actually win.
[2] Republican candidates need a personal Trump strategy
If the early days of 2017 have taught Republican candidates anything, it’s that they need a strategy to deal with their mercurial president, and they need to stick to it.
[3] The establishment isn’t dead yet
One of the most surprising results of all this year: not one of the elections featured a Trump-like surprise outcome.
[4] Democrats still don’t have a message
–the party is still struggling to find a clear and convincing message that can break through in these races, after Bernie Sanders-style populist Rob Quist fell short in Montana and the moderate Ossoff came only slightly closer in Georgia.
[5] Health care isn’t a silver bullet — not yet at least
To many Democrats, outbursts like that and polls showing that Republican’s American Health Care Act is deeply unpopular suggest that turning 2018 into a health care referendum might be their best bet.
[6] The Trump-era battleground: Suburbia
If the results of this year’s races and the expected top 2018 battleground districts are any indication, more affluent suburbs may be moving to the front of the political stage.
[7] The GOP base is still with Trump
Much has been made of Trump’s historically low approval ratings. But he remains popular among base Republicans

Washington purposely picks people from “safe” seats to run the bureaucracy in DC, so they won’t end up losing in the legislature. The fact that these special elections were so close should unnerve the GOP.

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Goethe Behr is a Contributing Editor and Moderator at Election Central. He started out posting during the 2008 election, became more active during 2012, and very active in 2016. He has been a political junkie since the 1950s and enjoys adding a historical perspective.

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