There are many ways to look at what happened in the special election for a Georgia house seat on Tuesday night. Republican Karen Handel beat her Democrat opponent Jon Ossof in the traditionally red district for the seat vacated by current Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Republicans are reveling in their victory, President Trump especially, feeling vindicated that this is not a referendum on his administration. Democrats and liberals are both soul searching and placing blame, as has become the standard since the primary battle and eventually Clinton’s loss in 2016. If we step back for a moment, what are some overarching lessons we can glean from this race?
1. Money isn’t everything
This special election set records for a house race with over $50 million spent. Jon Ossof raised over $23 million, including from over 200 thousand small donors. That’s a sign of things to come, with Democratic fundraising kicking into overdrive since Trump’s election. But the results in Georgia are also an important reminder that throwing money at a race isn’t a sure way to success.
2. Taking the high ground doesn’t pay:
Jon Ossof chose not to go big on attacking Donald Trump. His Republican opponent meanwhile leaned in heavily on partisan ideology, tying Ossof to Nancy Pelosi, “Hollywood money” and labeling him as a member of the media because of his work as a documentarian. The sad reality is that people vote along party lines, not on policy ideas, and figures keep backing that up.
3. Democrats can take more risks
Ossof ran as a modern day moderate, much to the chagrin of progressive activists. The Bernie Sanders vs Hillary Clinton debate of what qualifies as progressive was playing out all over again amongst Democrats as eyes were on this Georgia race. Be safe or be radical? If people primarily vote along party lines, then why not take a pause on trying to win over those in the undecided middle and try out a truly progressive agenda that may get the uninspired voters who choose to stay at home off the sidelines?
4. Republicans can get away with secrecy
As long as the attention stays on party divides, the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress can keep shutting out the press - even on issues as major as healthcare. A lack of accountability happens when there is a lack of scrutiny. It’s the job of the media, candidates, and the public to raise the red flags, and shout loudly.
Ultimately, we can’t treat this special election as a fool proof prognosticator for 2018. Ignoring its warning signs, however, would be a grave mistake if Democrats want to compete in Trump’s America.