Jun. 22nd, 2017

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So the Dems lost another special election, one into which they had poured a lot of money. It's almost always an error to generalize from special elections to, well, the general election. And there's a lot that can happen between now and 2018 not least of which is the R's continuing to push for a wildly unpopular bill to take away millions of peoples' health care in order to give tax breaks to billionaires. But let's assume they don't fully immolate themselves and the Dems have to come up with a winning plan - what does this election tell us?

1. Probably the most important thing it tells us is that not only is Trump's base not abandoning him, the Republican electorate in general is still willing to close ranks around him. Karen Handel is generally portrayed as a "conventional" Republican but she didn't make any effort to put space between herself and DJT and that strategy paid off. Conversely, the Republicans' attacks on Ossoff linking him to unpopular national Democratic figures didn't dent his support. He got the same 48% in the run-off that he'd gotten the first time around.

2. That failure to move the needle also shows that money isn't as important (for us) as people like to make out it is. Dems poured a lot of money into this election - $25MM by most estimates - and that swayed nary a voter. One might argue that it was necessary to counter the heavy Republican spending or Ossoff might have lost by a larger margin. But that, imo, points to another more important point, which is...

3. The Republicans are going to have to assume that no seat is safe. They're going to have to play a big zone defense and the Dems will be able to sniper at districts they think are vulnerable or where they can produce a good candidate. That gives Dems a tactical advantage. If they're smart they'll tailor their messages district-by-district and avoid big national things.

4. Speaking of tactics, it's disheartening to go 0-for-4 but if you compare Democratic numbers in these four elections they're better than the district numbers in 2012, 2014, and 2016. If Democrats are making gains in heavily red districts it bodes well for similar gains in more purple districts. Unfortunately, those are few and far between. Initial analyses I read said the Democrats have outperformed their past showings by 5-7% in these four elections. If you grant that as a nation-wide boost, then a 5-7 point lift should gain Dems something like 12-15 seats in the House, assuming everything else tracks (which is a wildly wrong assumption, but we have no other data right now). That's not enough to flip the House, but...

4a. Nate Silver's analysis shows Dems outperforming by a much wider margin - he has it at 11-17% and he says that margin puts as many as 60-80 seats into play, well more than the 24 needed to flip the House. The Senate map is less favorable because fewer seats are in play and because the Democrats have historically done not-so-well in state-level races. On the other hand, the margin needed to flip the Senate is also much thinner.

5. What these analyses have in common is the sense that Democrats are failing (a) to provide a coherent message beyond "at least we're not Trump" - which is a failing message from the get-go; and (b) to bring together the coalition that lifted Obama twice to the White House. Or really any coalition. This circular-firing-squad stuff really needs to stop. It's not Pelosi's fault that Ossoff lost (though I think it's long past time for a leadership change) any more than it's Sanders' fault Clinton lost. All candidates face drag and either the candidate is good enough at promoting their message to enough receptive people to overcome that drag or they are not.

That doesn't mean we should ignore the systemic factors disadvantaging voters - the Supreme Court has recently shown a remarkable willingness to take on gerrymandering cases. And we're going to need vigorous legal action to counter the active voter suppression that is targeting minority, older, and urban voters who tend to be more Democratic-leaning. But none of that is going to help if Dems continue running candidates that do not speak to voters' concerns.

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