I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this race since it came open, but specifically because I think this serves as a model lesson not only for how Democrats get back to power, but in the context of why Democrats shouldn’t be afraid to run candidates in every state, for every seat, in every state legislative district across the country.
I got into this same argument a bit yesterday on Twitter over Joe Manchin. “What’s the point of primarying Manchin” the other guy argued. He thought that Manchin was the best Democrat West Virginia could hope for, that any primary challenge would weaken him for the general election and cost us a chance at taking back the Senate. My reply was pretty simple: If Democrats have 51 votes in the Senate, and one of them is Joe Manchin, we’re going to need 52 votes in the Senate. But more than that, would it kill us to learn the name of a Democrat in West Virginia that isn’t Joe Manchin?
Which brings us back to Georgia-6. Not as red as West Virginia, but let’s not forget as we move forward that this is a longshot. It’s an R+12 district, and party voting preferences die exceptionally hard. But does that mean we shouldn’t contest it? If we try and fail, but we learn more about someone like Jon Ossoff, a twenty nine year old that is just starting out in politics, isn’t that a net win for us? In a few years, when district lines are redrawn, wouldn’t it behoove us to have a candidate that’s built a base, that has a donor list, that has some campaign infrastructure and is ready to go when the district becomes more winnable? To bring it back to West Virginia, there are lessons that can be learned in a primary campaign against Joe Manchin that could be useful down the road. Let’s not forget that in the last half-century, only 9 states have voted the same way in every presidential election. Among those that have voted for both parties at one point or another are red states like Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, Missouri and blue states like Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont! Just because West Virginia and North Dakota and Georgia-6 may not be ready for progressive representation now, it doesn’t mean that they never will.
One thing Democrats and progressives need is to be prepared for when opportunities arise. The way to do that is to build a young, national bench of politicians. Maybe not so that they can win today, or in 2018, or even in 2020. But so we can build a roster of leaders for the future. Our cupboard is bare. We have trouble recruiting for races for this exact reason.
Donald Trump won the presidency. Pretending there’s such a thing as electoral impossibility is naïve and counterproductive. Let’s contest everywhere. What the hell have we got to lose?
I’ve long used the historical example of William Sherman as a model for how Democrats should fight their way back to power. Yes, I know that only war is war, and analogies that compare politics to it are ill-considered. That being said, Sherman’s observation that “war is the remedy that our enemies have chosen, and I say let us give them all they want” is apt. Progressives have long been the party caught bringing knives to a gunfight (why are all our best analogies violence-related?) but seem to have more of an appetite to get in the trenches (ugh) and grind out some real victories.
So, in the spirit of Sherman, we start in Atlanta. The suburbs, to be exact.
Following the confirmation of now-former Rep. Tom Price, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced that a primary to fill the seat will be held on April 18. The primary will be open to candidates of all parties, and in the likelihood of no candidate getting 50% of the vote in what is expected to be a large field, the top two vote getters will square off in a runoff election on June 20.
Step one is to make sure that runoff involves a Democrat, and that means coalescing around a candidate.
I’m withholding judgment on who exactly that should be for now. There are several Democrats who are already actively running for the seat:
Former Naval officer and Gulf War vet Richard Keatley is running on a platform that unsurprisingly revolves around Veteran’s issues and protecting the safety net. Sally Harrell and Ron Slotin, both state legislators, have also already declared.
But by far the most intriguing candidate is Jon Ossoff, a 29 year old former legislative aide to Democratic Rep. John Lewis and a promising fundraiser who’s already raked in a half million dollars in commitments. He’s also lined up endorsements from Lewis, fellow Rep. Hank Johnson, and most recently Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams. If he can pile up a fundraising advantage over other Democratic competitors (something he is well on his way to doing), it would be a no-brainer for the party to rally behind him.
Step two is winning the seat.
As I’ve mentioned, despite the district being solidly Republican, Trump struggled to eke out a 2 point win over Hillary Clinton here last year. Making the special election a referendum on Trump (which the media will be all to happy to help us do) will be remarkably helpful in flipping the seat. A nationalized race is the best chance an underdog has to winning a seat this red, and to be clear, even Ossoff may be outgunned in a general election that Republicans will target every bit as much.
But if last year taught us anything, it’s that underdogs win sometimes. Democrats have a wind at their backs, a good candidate, and an already unpopular president to run against. If we can harness our activism and pour our energy into this seat for the next month or two, it could help set the narrative for the summer.