Determined to derail President Donald Trump, Democrats thought they had a good chance to spin an upset victory in a special election runoff in Georgia for the U.S. Congress on Tuesday. Instead, they watched in disbelief as the Republican candidate, Karen Handel, won handily in a race that some Democrats had said might well be a ‘referendum’ on the Trump Administration.
It left some Congressional Democrats pained, and searching for answers.
“We need a genuinely new message, a serious jobs plan that reaches all Americans, and a bigger tent not a smaller one,” said Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), who has tried to sharpen the election message of Democrats since coming to Congress after the 2014 election.
“Let’s be a party of big economic ideas for those with stagnant wages – who seek new industry, fear monopoly, & want good jobs for their kids,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), a freshmen elected in 2016.
Khanna was more blunt away from Twitter, as he told Reid Epstein of the Wall Street Journal that national Democrats should fire their consultants, and seek out a different election message.
“I do think in the long term we need a harder edged economic message,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), one of the newer and younger Democrats in the Senate.
“Winning in Georgia 6 – a district that hasn’t elected a Democrat in three decades – was always an uphill battle,” said Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY), a top House Democrat, acknowledging Ossoff’s defeat.
“Still, this was a tough loss,” Crowley added.
The official reaction from the campaign arm of House Democrats – the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – was that Ossoff had run a very good race in Red State America, and that Democrats “have the momentum heading into 2018.”
“Ossoff’s close margin demonstrates the potential for us to compete deep into the battlefield,” said Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM).
And frankly, if you look at the vote totals in Georgia, and another special election on Tuesday in South Carolina, it’s now four straight special elections where Democrats have done dramatically better than back in November.
But moral victories only get you so far – and Democrats are clearly chafing at their inability to turn the tables on President Trump.
While Democrats wondered what went wrong, the White House celebrated the victory.
“Congratulations to Karen Handel on her big win in Georgia 6th. Fantastic job, we are all very proud of you!” the President tweeted, soon after Trumps returned from dinner with Vice President Pence and his wife.