Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Work Your Ossoff

(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari Goldstein)
The kid almost pulled it off last night with a single knockout punch but there has to be a round two.
      When "President" Donald Trump tapped Tom Price to be his HHS Secretary, I'm sure his aides and advisors, or those few whose voices he heard over his own, assured him, "Go ahead and nominate Tom Price, Mr. President." "It's a solidly red Republican district," they said. "Georgia 6 has been in GOP hands since 1976," they said. "They could put out a flour sack with Newt Gingrich's face scrawled on it and it'd win," they said.
     Not so fast, Georgia 6's voters said.
     Last night, documentary filmmaker and political neophyte Jon Ossoff almost pulled off the impossible and came within 1.9% of winning the mandated 50% he'd've needed to win the seat outright. And his 48.1% of the vote was against a crowded field of 18, including 11 Republicans, four other Democrats and two Independents. The next-best finish by a Democrat was when Ragin Edwards and Ron Slotin each finished with a measly 0.3% of the vote, or 990 votes between them.
     It was supposed to be a cakewalk for Karen Handel, former Georgia Secretary of State and a safe choice, so thought the Powers That Be. Ms. Handel is thought of as an establishment-friendly Republican. This wasn't supposed to be a bellwether election, a test of Trump's so-called mandate, a synecdoche of the bloodbath to come in next year's all-important midterms that, historically, go against the party of a new President (something that's failed to happen only twice, in 1934 and 2002).
     But the stage for this battle royale of legitimate contenders and wannabes had already been set Election Day last year and before that. Consider that in 2012 when he ran against President Barack Obama, Mitt Romney took Georgia 6 by 23 points. Yet when Trump ran last year, he edged Secretary Hillary Clinton by a razor-thin margin of 1.5%, nearly the margin that kept Jon Ossoff from being a Congressman-elect today.
     During that same election, Tom Price romped to victory by winning 62% of the vote. But then Trump settled into his three White Houses and tried acting presidential, promptly breaking virtually every promise he made on the campaign trail. He'd release the tax returns then he wouldn't. He'd leave Syria alone then he bombed them. He'd leave Social Security alone then went after it. The Mexicans would pay for the wall then we would.
     Enter the rise of the white collar voter and Jon Ossoff.

Revenge of the Jedi
In our cinecentric day and age, it doesn't hurt to make an occasional cultural reference for the sake of context, provided it's an apt one that helps to illustrate the writer's point. So let's look at this in a Star Wars context (Not my idea, but Ossoff's and the Republicans', except theirs failed spectacularly)- Jon Ossoff is the young Jedi knight who's trying to rally the defeated rebellion of Georgia 6. At 30, he'd be barely old enough to run for the US Senate.
     He seeks to replace a bland Darth Vader in the person of Tom Price, whose new job as HHS Secretary is to kill as many Americans as possible without having to resort to Tomahawk missiles or MOABs or an Imperial Death Star. The Emperor, played by Donald J. Trump, elevates Tom Price to his new role as Darth Vader because, really, what could possibly go wrong?
     This part of the Evil Empire has been in (un)friendly hands for 40 years, as has the entire state of Georgia. But they didn't count on young Luke Skywalker, played by young Jon Ossoff, to try to rally the troops of the beleaguered Rebellion in this tiny outpost of the Empire (Georgia 6). The problem was, the Emperor and poor Darth didn't count on Ossoff's personal appeal and good looks to earn him so much assistance from outside the outpost.
     They didn't count on Ossoff, a quick-witted and knowledgeable Georgetown Political Science major, to amass a war chest of $8.3 million, 95% of which coming from outside the state. Ossoff spearheaded a one man Democratic juggernaut behind hostile enemy lines and, when the straw polls began rolling in these past few weeks, it became obvious to the Empire that it was all they could do to keep young Luke from retaking the outpost in one fell swoop. They knew they wouldn't score a Round One knockout, so the little wannabe Tom Price's swarmed and clinched, praying they'd be saved by the bell.
     Something else the Emperor, or Vader, didn't count on- that Georgia 6 is the most highly educated of the Empire's 435 outposts (and the Empire's candidates historically don't fare very well in districts where voters have some education) and that it would contain a lot of disaffected Caucasian white collar voters who seemed to like Tom Price well enough but were left cold by Trump (Remember, he took the district last November by just 1.5%). That doesn't exactly make a mandate.

A New Beginning?
Let's keep some facts in mind- While Handel may have won another spot at the table, when Republican voters in GA6 had an actual choice, she got less than 20%. She may bill herself as a Trump supporter but she hardly mentioned Trump at all. In fact, it can be said her approval of Trump's first 100 days has been more tepid than that of her Republican rivals. Even Ossoff, whose campaign was billed as, "Make Trump furious again", hardly mentioned his name. Despite his robocall recordings, Trump's essentially as much a nonentity in GA6 as he was on Election Night last year.
     Trump and his team of psychopaths infamously live in a bubble and they honestly thought they had this seeming bellwether of a race in the bag. There were the usual Republican dirty tricks, such as stolen voting machines out of a precinct manager’s car, which wasn't immediately reported as stolen, before the election, a "corrupted" data card that held up the results and deliberately deceptive data from a Republican company.
     Still, Ossoff wound up with almost as many votes as his 17 rivals combined. In fact, if the run off election was held today with exactly as many voters casting their ballots today as last night, Ossoff would still lose by just 2.7% of the vote (50.8% to 48.1%). Now, polling data is wonky these days to begin with and that's no truer than in runoff and special elections. But not all Republican voters are going to rally around Handel as the establishment GOP's already doing. It can be assured that Ossoff's base will not desert him, especially considering the dismal showing by his two closest Democratic rivals.
     The speeches delivered by the candidates and the available polling data we have show that, at best, it's a dicey proposition latching onto Trump's coattails and oversized Rodney Dangerfield tie at least in this district. And, with the close scrape in Kansas' 4th district earlier this month (if anything, KS4 was an even redder district than GA6) that saw Ron Estes emerge victorious but battered shows voters are having buyer's remorse and political sticker shock.
     The Republicans have the advantage in GA6 in that they have the structure and longtime brand name recognition. And,  should they unanimously rally to Handel's side, they certainly still have the votes to pull off another slim win. But Ossoff's base is growing and his support came all the way from the Beltway. This is like Ned Lamont Redux.
     Let's just hope that, unlike Lamont, Ossoff doesn't get talked into watering down his message by focus groups just looking for a 1% mandate.

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