Not-So-Special Elections

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Energy Citizens

So, now that we are several days removed from the special congressional elections in Georgia and South Carolina, what have we learned?

Not much as a way to predict the midterms in 2018.

Special elections are somewhat an anomaly as so much attention—I mean money—is funneled to these campaigns, so it is not easy to determine how these races would have come out if they were not the sole focus of each party’s attentions.  There was in the neighborhood of $50 million raised for the Georgia 6th by all the interested groups; this will not be duplicated in the mist of an overall general election in the fall of 2018.

Yes, one can talk of a moral victory for Democrats as the election was much closer than previous elections, or if you’re a Republican that they were able to retain these seats in a mist of a full court press by the Democrats, but none of that matters much come November 2018.  What does matter is how the Republicans conducted these campaigns, especially in the Georgia 6th.

For all the millions of dollars spent on media buys the efforts by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and the Congressional Leadership Fund, (in essence his SuperPAC), in addition to grassroots efforts by the Republican National Committee, is a foreshadowing of what will come. Hiring 100 field workers to knock on doors, and targeting registered Republicans who voted in the 2016 election but did not vote in the special open primary, along with voters who generally vote in the presidential elections but not the midterms. This was just a part of the overall target group of 300,000 Republican voters that were reached by very traditional methods: direct mail, phone banks, (not robocalls), door-to-door canvassing, and then backed up by a very effective, and critical, Get Out The Vote effort. This of course was supported by media buys and free social media. Clearly this type of grassroots effort was a winning strategy that you can expect to be duplicated in 2018.

The message for this effort—Jon Ossoff is a Nancy Pelosi California/San Francisco liberal Democrat. One ad even pictured Ossoff with a trolley car in the background. This message in many ways was at the heart of the Trump effort and why he did so unexpectedly well in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan. The campaign, as well as the South Carolina race, simply picked up on that sentiment.

Before anyone thinks this is a new or revolutionary strategy, I remember as a very young man working the Pennsylvania Republican Party going door to door in rural counties that had a Democratic voter registration edge trying to convince people to change parties. The message on the brochure was “do these people represent your view?” These people were Sen. Ted Kennedy and presidential candidate Jesse Jackson. We were able to change a few counties from D to R prior to the 1984 election.

In politics, what seems to be new is often old.

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