Money doesn’t buy happiness, or a congressional seat.
OK, so all the Republicans who claim Jon Ossoff spent $51 million on the seat were wrong. He spent only a little more than half of that, only $2 million more than Karen Handel. But it wasn’t enough. It’s worth noting that little-known Archie Parnell lost by a similar narrow margin in South Carolina, an even more conservative district than the Georgia 6th, more of a swing district.
Granted, no Democrat has served there since the late 1970s, and Newt Gingrich, Johnny Isakson, and Tom Price won it by wide margins, but Trump barely carried it in 2016.
So call me Maybe? Maybe not.
Students of mine living in the 6th District complained that they were deluged by robo-calls. Some even met Ossoff, and liked him, but the calls, poor strategy, and overdoing it on contacts didn’t win him any votes. And in this sort of race, every vote mattered.
Listen to the locals.
Students who volunteered or worked for Handel felt that locals were involved. But students who volunteered or worked for Ossoff said that they weren’t being listened to, that outside people came in to run things and didn’t know the district, or where to campaign. They (and the GOP students) claimed that Democrats spent more time trying to win over Republicans than motivating their base -- African-Americans, Hispanics, LGBT voters, etc.
Men voted for Venus. Women voted for Mars.
Karen Handel became the one of the first Georgia GOP congresswomen ever elected, if not the first. And she did it with the male vote. She won the male vote 54% to 41%. Ossoff captured the female vote by a similar double-digit margin.
Experience still counts for something.
Jon Ossoff has a bright future in politics. He’s a lot like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, except they got hammered in their first congressional races by a wider margin. But it was his first race, and he has some learning to do. Handel has been Secretary of State and had run for governor and U.S. senator. It showed, as she ran a pretty decent race. There’s more about that next.
Handel won with a moderate tone, and hiding Trump under a bushel
Conservatives like Laura Ingraham ripped on Handel for running like a moderate, accusing her of “hiding Trump under a bushel.” But it was evidently the smart call. In her three appearances before my class, Handel did a great job, striking a centrist tone that appealed to my students. She never brought Trump up unless a reporter asked a question, and quickly pivoted when they did. She didn’t have fundraisers with him. So yeah, Trump took the credit afterward. But for Republicans worried about their 2018 prospects, Karen Handel showed the way.
John A. Tures is associate professor of political science at LaGrange College; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JohnTures2.