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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

What Ossoff Did Right

You may have already had your fill of post-mortems of the GA-6 election. Just about everybody has had their say about what Jon Ossoff did wrong, or what went wrong in the Atlanta ‘burbs special election, save the candidate himself. His reflections will be of considerable interest when he shares them.

Among the critiques of Ossoff’s campaign messaging and strategy, several resonated with me. Ed Kilgore’s observation that “Negative ads still work” was certainly verified by Handel’s relentless ads, arguably the overarching component of her strategy.  Ossoff’s “attack” ads were comparatively tame and polite, and he really didn’t give Handel’s gaffe about opposing a “living wage” an energetic workout.

The GA-6 election and other special elections of 2017 suggest that Democratic candidates could toughen up a bit. I agree some with Cenk Uygur’s argument that Democrats have to start calling out their Republican opponents as “corrupt”, whenever it applies, which is a lot. Ossoff could have done more to characterize his adversary as a toady for her wealthy contributors, even in a district where the median income is quite high.

Reluctantly, I have to agree with Republican ‘Morning Joe’ Scarborough that Democrats may be wasting too much political energy on demonstrations relative to front-porch canvassing or registering voters. Yes, the anti-Trump ‘Resistance’ demonstrations have helped to rally public opinion against him and the Republican agenda. But at least some of that time, energy and expense could be more productively invested in voter registration and GOTV.

The ‘Morning Joe’ program also featured one of the lamer blanket observations about the GA-6 election I have heard, Mark Halperin’s characterization of the vote as “an unmitigated disaster for the Democrats.” As a friend put it in an email, “I’m confused: 2016 — GOP wins deep red district by 23 points. 2017 – GOP wins deep red district by 4 points. Conclusion: unambiguous Democratic disaster?”

We shouldn’t move on, however, without a nod to what candidate Ossoff did right, because those lessons may be useful.

First, Ossoff had the metttle to step up and run in a district that most political wonks would call a lost cause for Democrats, and he damn near won it in the first round. Democrats are always yakking about how we need fresh faces, and we do. But it takes courage and personal sacrifice for a relatively unknown someone to take the risk and actually join the fray and make a go of it. He gets Aces for raw determination.

Democrats need more such gutsy newcomers, especially women and candidates of color. The obstacles, especially the financial hurdles, are so formidable, that when someone rises to the challenge from nowhere and does well, it’s a national news story. That leads to another of Ossoff’s impressive accomplishments — fund-raising. He raised more dough than any congressional candidate ever, which is quite amazing for a previously no-name Democrat. If nothing else, Democrats ought to study the hell out of his fund-raising strategy, and the DNC and state Democratic parties would be smart to hire him as a consultant.

Ossoff’s campaign turned an R+23 district into an R-3.7 district. He also recruited an estimated 2,000 volunteers, which may also be close to a record. I don’t buy the argument that a more “charismatic” candidate would have done better. The political world has plenty of charismatic individuals who don’t know squat about fund-raising, or lack the work ethic and grit to put up a good fight, or the skill-set to hold their own in a debate with a more experienced candidate.

I hope that Ossoff will run again for elective office, and leverage the lessons of his campaign. No doubt some potential candidates may be discouraged by Ossoff’s loss in the GA-6 race.  Nonetheless, today Democratic newcomers all across America are thinking more seriously about running for office, thanks to Jon Ossoff’s campaign. That alone makes him a rising star in my book.

3 comments on “What Ossoff Did Right

  1. J.P. on

    I’ve pretty much vented my thoughts about the GA-6 election and what it might mean for Democratic candidates in the near future. I just hope Ossoff, Perez and Ellison spend some quality time together, if they haven’t already, and see what they can learn from each other.

  2. Jack Olson on

    J.P. Green is right. Ossoff lost but his impressive showing gives him credibility for future campaigns. Many politicians have lost early elections and gone on to win later ones. Jon Ossoff is too young and too talented to end his political career with the loss of this one election. Someday, he is going to be elected Senator. My question to Green, if it merits answer, is what conclusions Chairman Perez should draw from the Democrats’ losses in special elections like this one and how they apply to the DNC’s national strategy.


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