Mind the Base

New Orleans   Something smells fishy to me. When George W. Bush’s former strategist, Karl Rove, as well an author on “Truthout” are both saying that the Democrats are wasting time and money in Georgia, I get suspicious. Rove’s advice is go Big Sky, spend your time and money in a statewide Congressional race in Montana, because in his words, “they vote for Democrats there.” Meanwhile despite a better than 48% showing in the first primary for the Democratic candidate, Ossoff, in Georgia, pundits are arguing this is just a hole where you pour money and Democrats have no chance to win, no matter how much they spend. What’s the skinny here?

Reading between the lines, sure, Georgia is an uphill fight. Democrats haven’t won in 40 years since the time of Jimmy Carter. The leading Republican candidate is a former Georgia Secretary of State who hardly polled 20% in the first round. Rove and the traditional bettors are believing, with good cause I’m sure, that at the end of the day the losing Republican candidates will coalesce around her despite her record as a poor fundraiser and someone who has lost one race after another recently.

On the other hand, the Democratic base in reaction to the Trump presidency sees every election as a plebiscite on Trump and his poor performance and reportedly is demanding that all races be contested and that the party once again put on its big boy pants and contend nationally rather than just in the blues. If you are going to build a party, how can you ignore the base, win, lose or draw? Isn’t that a lesson that Hillary Clinton just taught us all in a way we should never forget? We have to always privilege the base!

Furthermore, the notion of a money drain being advanced by Rove seems gratuitous and self-serving. Talking to a newly minted party activist several weeks ago, he described a growing coalition that was mobilizing in Georgia which had not been fighting in the lists previously. He described the amalgamation as having 100 million Twitter followers from Hollywood to Silicon Valley and back to the East Coast. His argument was that this was new money. It was money being activated to respond to the challenge of the moment.

The same activist would argue that the race in Montana is also important. He and some of his co-conspirators believed that the lightly populated Western states from Alaska to Wyoming should be front and center on any plan to turn the country around. He stood up straight when he realized I was born in Wyoming and detailed a plan a multi-year plan to repopulate the state. He felt that if 20,000 or so people, young and more progressive, could be convinced to move to Wyoming it would fall into the blue state column like Humpty-Dumpty coming off the wall.

Ok, maybe that seems a bit like taking people to live on Mars or the moon, but when the base has gone active and wants to fight, organizers need to run as fast as they can to catch up and feed the fire. New money and new support comes in and as even Rove argues, no one has a clue in either party yet about what it might take to win in the midterms in 2018. These early skirmishes might just provide the battle plan for those contests, but only if we mind the base.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Lights Came On in Georgia for Congressional Race

Ossoff marching next to Rep. John Lewis

New Orleans     Jon Ossoff, a 30-year old documentary filmmaker in Georgia and a former Congressional aide, took a run at winning an election in a suburban Atlanta district so conservative that it had not sent a Democrat to Congress since the days Jimmy Carter, 40 years ago. Ossoff was running as a Democrat to replace arch-conservative Congressman Tom Price, who is wrecking his special brand of havoc in Washington as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. In the heavily funded and much watched primary as one of the early barometers of voters’ feelings about President Trump, Ossoff narrowly missed winning the election without a runoff, polling more than 46% against a field of Republicans and now headed for a runoff.

Certainly, Ossoff’s victory is not assured in June in the runoff, but there is no doubt that this race, as well as a better than expected showing recently in a rock ribbed district in Kansas, narrowly won by a Republican, means that the lights have come on in Georgia, the White House, and everywhere else that Republican strategists and pollsters are burning the midnight oil trying to figure out what these early races could portend for continuing one-party control of Congress and the already tenuous Trump presidency. If nothing else, we are already seeing a financial arms race at work as Republican donors are having to recalculate the likely cost of defending what have been crimson solid Republican-base districts. Ossoff attracted more than $3 million dollars for his campaign, many multiples over the Republican field, but reportedly Republicans have also been forced to dig deep to stay in the battle.

Are these early elections really barometers of opinion on Trump and his presidency? Yes and no. Off-year special elections are always more local than national with their own set of issues, so the results are not definitively about Trump. Saying that doesn’t change the fact that the White House and the Republican Party can’t be happy about any of this. The candidates are first time neophytes and they are running against Trump hard and polling with unexpected strength which will embolden others, including more seasoned political warriors. Furthermore, the lessons for incumbents watching these early contests doesn’t lead any of them to a conclusion that Trump has coattails that will help them win reelection in 2018 or that a warm embrace of the President is part of the path to power now. If there is no such thing as a safe harbor district, then the rats will be jumping off the ship in increasing numbers, and no matter what bragging might be done by the President, the American people will have trouble hearing him while staring at the huge L increasingly being tattooed on his forehead.

At the point that Trump and his people can’t win for losing, it’s all over but the shouting.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail