Life has a way with laughing at our plans. I was on my way to an extended trip to the beach last April when I got a call from my friend Karen. She needed help with a campaign, and I agreed to rearrange my next two months.
It worked out OK. I didn’t get the break envisioned, but she’s now Georgia’s first female Republican member of Congress. I consider it time well spent.
By the time I made it to the office a week after the April 18 “jungle primary” vote, the runoff was well under way. For our opposition, they didn’t have to do much different the day after the runoff as they were the day before. For Team Handel, the support of ten other Republican candidates had to be sought, millions needed to be raised, and the staff needed to grow by about a multiple of ten.
Karen said publicly and privately it was “all hands on deck.” It was, and there was plenty to do.
The amount of money spent, the compressed time frame to execute a full campaign, and the national attention paid to the race all added a unique dimension to what we dealt with on a daily basis. Many members of the media were only interested in reporting on the race in the context of a narrative defined by President Trump.
The general consultants on the race — essentially the chief strategists for those unfamiliar with campaign titles — were Rob Simms and Mike Shields of Convergence Media. Simms, a friend of mine via Handel’s 2010 campaign for governor and Handel’s former deputy secretary of state, is the immediate former executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Shields is a former chief of staff to the Republican National Committee.
Simms and Shields penned a piece for CNN.com with seven takeaways from the campaign for those looking at 2018 Congressional mid-terms. For those who want more details on this race, I highly recommend using the internet search engine of your choice and finding it.
Georgia will also have statewide elections in 2018. There’s an additional takeaway that I would like to add to their list, one that has direct applicability to Republicans seeking statewide office next year, and to those who would run against them.
Karen Handel ran on her record. She ran on the promise to go to Washington as an accomplished problem solver and fixer.
Karen Handel didn’t run as an outsider. Karen Handel didn’t run as a Republican who wants to shrink government small enough so that she can put it in a bathtub and drown it. She was not anti-establishment, nor did she present herself as the leader of a party of “no.”
Her standard stump speech was one in which she contrasted the empty platitudes of her opponent with actual accomplishments from her record. He talked about eliminating wasteful spending, but she countered with the fact that she shrank the Secretary of State’s budget by 20 percent while increasing the effectiveness of the agency at the same time.
He talked about the need to reach across the aisle. She talked about persuading a majority Democratic Fulton County Commission to shelve a tax increase in favor of strategic cuts to fix a $100 million deficit.
He talked about rooting out corruption. She talked about suspending a corrupt sheriff and effectively ending her career while recouping the improperly spent money.
The Republicans running for Georgia’s top offices are all insiders to a degree. They all have records, and the state has a list of accomplishments and strides made since the depths of the Great Recession.
Republicans, especially those running for positions in Washington, have made great hay running against … virtually everything. That was easy fodder for the past eight years, when a Democrat held the Oval Office.
In Georgia, Republicans have held the Governor’s Mansion for almost 16 years and both chambers of the legislature approaching 14. There’s a record. While there’s always room for improvement, there is also quite a long list of accomplishments.
It’s always easy for bottom feeders to run against everything and anything, hoping the average voter can’t or won’t differentiate between their anger at inaction in DC and the demonstrable results achieved at the state level.
Karen Handel didn’t do that. She embraced competence in government, and a resume of results. And she won.
A few of the consultants who were openly critical of her efforts — and who are coaching their current candidates for next year’s elections — should probably take note of that.
Charlie Harper, executive director of PolicyBEST, a public policy think tank, is also the publisher of GeorgiaPol.com, a website dedicated to state & local politics of Georgia.