BY RACHAEL BLANDAU – OPINIONS EDITOR
Deep down in the 6th Congressional District of Georgia, a special election is taking place that could determine the trajectory of the Democratic Party heading into the 2018 midterms. A lone face stands as the picture of a new, younger Democratic Party. At only thirty years old, this protégée of John Lewis is stepping up in a district that the Republicans have held for over 30 years.
His name is Jon Ossoff, and he is making waves.
When this young first-time candidate stepped out on the scene, it seemed likely that this Republican stronghold would remain that way, especially following the devastating losses in the 2016 election season. But the party needed a new face, Democratic voters needed a hero, and everyone needed a distraction from the destruction of former president Obama’s legacy that is taking place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
So, the entire might of the party went into a special election that could turn the tides in the Democrats’ favor in 2018. Fundraising soared, with Ossoff raising an impressive $3 million in the first few months. The Hill reports that fundraising has now ballooned to $8.3 million heading into the April 18 special election. Party leaders including Nancy Pelosi and Ossoff’s former boss and mentor John Lewis have assembled their forces in Georgia for the first major showdown of the next election.
Now, they believe, is the time to strike. The Georgia 6th only elected President Trump by one point. If the Democrats needed a win – and they do – this particular seat is the place to try.
Republicans, too, are aware of what is at stake. In the past few months, since Ossoff became a genuine threat, attack ads have targeted his campaign with increasing fervor. The National Republican Congressional Committee just ran an advertisement that declared, “The stakes are too high to stay home.” Other ads have attacked Ossoff for dressing up as Han Solo while in a Georgetown University a cappella group, and have even gone as far as to call him ‘dangerous.’
What is at stake, other than getting the Democrats a much-needed win, and lifting the spirits of voters heading into the midterms?
One of the major issues for Democrats in the 2016 election cycle was not that they weren’t getting the votes from typically blue states – it is that they were failing to convert red districts and states to their side. Georgia is a very Republican state, with a majority-Republican state legislature and a voter base that was overwhelmingly for Donald Trump. But if Jon Ossoff can pull off a victory in Georgia with as little experience as he has – why can’t more experienced politicians use the same tactics and bring in the same passion needed to flip the House in 2018?
If Ossoff wins in a state that is not really vulnerable to flipping blue, what does this mean for states that are vulnerable? Although the entire future of the Party does not hinge on the special election in the Georgia 6th, a big win there, as well as other wins elsewhere, could be just the right amount of momentum needed to get the Democrats a chance of winning back the House.
There are other special elections in 2017 that Democrats need to pour money and time into to make a difference, including a seat that can be won in Montana as well as a long-shot seat in South Carolina. The question going forward is whether Democrats should rely on anti-Trump support and activism or they should continue to fight back positively, showing their positions as a good alternative without attacking the President.
So far it seems to have worked, with a long-shot seat in Kansas being lost by only seven percentage points in a moral victory that gave Democrats hope, especially since the state was won by more than thirty points by the President in November. While anti-Trump fervor may continue to rise into the Midterm season, Jon Ossoff and other Democrats look to gain the same momentum seen in Kansas. To do so they should focus on more positive messages – a win in these special elections is only useful if Democrats become the moral high ground that voters want to vote for.
Another possible reason for excitement with this special election is the utilization of a new, young type of candidate. Ossoff is only thirty years old, in his first race ever, and has an undeniable baby face that screams youthful vigor. Yet his youthful countenance is drawing in believers more than any Democratic candidate since Bernie Sanders. Passion politics is the new modus operandi of the Democratic Party, and both a millennial candidate and an older candidate like Sanders are riding the wave.
Is this brand of passion politics sustainable? Who knows. But a win by Jon Ossoff and other special election candidates could be the perfect testing ground to find out.