In the latest disappointment for Democrats, congressional candidate Jon Ossoff was defeated by Trump-backed republican Karen Handel, who will now represent Georgia’s sixth district in the house. The sixth, an Atlanta suburb of the “fetch me my pearls to clutch” variety, is solidly Republican (its last congressman, Tom Price was a staunch conservative and would routinely win double-digit victories for re-election), but was considered a unique opportunity for Democrats after Secretary Hillary Clinton lost the district by just a point and a half. Ossoff, at this point, was one of the newest faces of the Resistance, despite the fact that his politics weren’t all that radical.
He opposed medicare for all, as well as raising taxes on the rich, which may have separated him from the ascendent left wing of the party, but certainly didn’t alienate him in the stuffed-shirt Atlanta burbs. His strong showing in Tuesday’s special election — losing by three percentage points, or just fewer than 10,000 votes — isn’t a complete failure by any stretch until one accounts for two variables: First, enthusiastic boosters poured more than $25 million into Ossoff’s quixotic quest, making his campaign a bigger loss than perhaps it had to be (for comparison, his opponent raised less than $5 million for her campaign). It was the most expensive House race in US history. Second, Karen Handel embodied blind Trumpism, in a myriad of circumstances, to the point of it almost being farce.
“This is an example of a fundamental difference between a liberal and a conservative,” said Handel during her debate with Ossoff before dropping the gaff that should have cost her the election: “I do not support a livable wage.” This wasn’t just a Freudian slip, it was the worst breach of GOP protocol in recent memory. To make it so their working class base won’t start voting in its best interests, Republican candidates are obliged to keep wage conversation firmly planted in the “foreigners are taking yours from you” arena. Actually saying that wage slavery is a party policy should have disqualified any candidate. But this is 2017, and normal politics are deader than disco.
The key narrative in the aftermath of Handel’s win has involved treating this special election as a referendum on President Trump and a bellwether for the 2018 midterm elections. Because so much money had been spent on Ossoff’s campaign and the GOP candidate was so staunchly in line with Trump, Ossoff was widely seen as a butterfly flapping his wings in Georgia that would cause a storm in Washington D.C. But in a district where Mitt Romney won by more than 20% in 2012 and Clinton’s strong showing is attributed more to anti-Trump sentiment than pro-Democratic enthusiasm, Ossoff was always more of an underdog than the left was prepared to believe. We might be talking about a diverse and relatively metropolitan district, but this is still Georgia. Ossoff’s ability to get more than 48% of the vote should be good news for the left — if a Georgia liberal who didn’t even live in the district can come this close, what might happen when every seat in the House is up for grabs?