#GA6 Was a Reminder — Not a Referendum

The special election held for the open congressional seat in the 6th district of north suburban Atlanta was supposed to be a movement. People I know as far away as California sent money to the Jon Ossoff campaign in hopes of beginning a revolution of sorts against the ideology of the Trump administration.

Only the country didn’t count on Georgia being well… Georgia about everything.

I’ve covered elections since 1996, and this is my second election in the Peach State, and it’s been an education, that’s for sure. My Yankee sensibilities simply don’t translate well down here, and that’s where the Democrats went wrong with Ossoff. They were hoping for Obama-type results with a young idealist ready to make change, only it was a tone deaf approach. They simply didn’t know their audience.

Handel ran on a platform of, “He’s just not one of us,” declaring Ossoff an outsider and Pelosi puppet, playing on the inherent fear of change that plagues this part of the country… and it worked. If there’s something more hated here than a black president, it’s a female adversary. Nancy Pelosi is regarded as a fire breathing liberal hell demon who eats kittens for breakfast in these parts.

Karen Handel did the smart thing in her campaign by capitalizing on the tribal xenophobia the culture here embraces. She is the 6th district. Affluent, white, middle aged, privileged; yet seethingly disenfranchised. They’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore. What they’re mad about no one can articulate; but no one had better touch their money, guns, or Bibles.

The problem with Jon Ossoff’s campaign was the hubris that running on a platform of platitudes that lacked any kind of substance would be enough. His website lacked any stances on issues, and his ads were vague and out of touch. The party gambled on the notion that people would simply be dissatisfied with the Trump administration enough to have anyone but a Republican in office. Clearly, the formula of attractive, young, and money would work, right? No one took into account what the South is really about, and having a candidate who can’t even vote in his own election because he’s an ‘outsider’ would ultimately be the kiss of death, close election or not.

Unfortunately, the referendum became a reminder that old formulas simply aren’t going to work anymore. If the Democrats are to control the national conversation and lead the country away from what’s happening now, it’s going to take substance and passion. It’s going to be about knowing the base and what they actually want, and a willingness to adjust in order to do better than getting the ‘housewives who feel guilty they voted for Trump’ vote. This election should remind everyone that what our nation faces right now is a systemic reactionary disconnect motivated by fear that will no longer be moved by throwing money and flash at it.