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GOP special election victories show Democrats have work to do

WASHINGTON — After Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff, 30, lost the most expensive House election ever to Republican Karen Handel, 55, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to celebrate.

“Well, the Special Elections are over and those that want to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN are 5 and 0! All the Fake News, all the money spent = 0,” read one of the president’s Tweets.

Aide Kellyanne Conway got into the spirit when she tweeted, “Laughing my #Ossoff.”

In fact, Republicans have won four out of the four special elections held to fill seats vacated by GOP House members recruited by the Trump administration. Handel won the seat vacated by now Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price on the same day Republican Ralph Norman defeated Democrat Archie Parnell in the race to fill the South Carolina congressional seat formerly held by budget director Mick Mulvaney.

“The president is obviously happy with both of the wins,” Trump spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said. “This just shows that the American people are resonating with the president’s agenda, and that they want to advance the president’s agenda.”

The wins in Georgia and South Carolina followed similar victories in special House elections in Kansas and Montana.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the campaigns in Georgia spent “a staggering $56.7 million” — easily overtaking a 2012 Florida special election that cost $29.5 million. Handel won by a margin of 52-48.

The outcome in South Carolina was closer, which had some Democrats wondering if the party should have steered more money there. Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center doesn’t think it would have helped.

“The way you win a seat like that is stealth,” Olsen opined. Handel won the Georgia seat in part because the glut of out-of-state donations to Ossof attracted the kind of attention that boosts GOP turnout.

Olsen’s takeaway from the four GOP victories: “There is nothing that has moved the core Trump voter one iota.”

Democratic operatives had been hyping the Georgia seat as the start of a wave to help the party win back the House in 2018.

Before the voting began, the New York Times described the race as “possibly the most consequential special election since Watergate.” After Handel won, the Times credited the opposition’s success in tying Ossoff to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Rep. Tim Ryan, D.-Ohio, who challenged Pelosi for the minority leader position after November’s disastrous losses, told The Hill, “We’d better take a good, long strong look in the mirror and realize that the problem is us; it’s the party.” Ryan called Ossof a “great” candidate who “couldn’t carry the national baggage of the Democratic Party.”

Democratic pollster Paul Maslin doesn’t see Ossoff’s loss as a referendum on Pelosi or a sign of what will happen in November 2018. “I think they coalesced their vote” in an historically Republican district, he said. “We were probably too optimistic.”

Maslin noted that Democrats won most special elections in 2009, only to see Republicans take the House with a 63-seat gain in 2010.

“I don’t think it proves anything about next year,” he said. By next summer, it will be clear if voters are clamoring for change. Then Maslin laughed and added, “If we had won, by the way, it would have been an earthquake.”

Tea Party Express chief strategist Sal Russo thinks the Democrats’ agenda is the problem.

“Their national narrative is so full of Trump, the Russians, impeachment, and that’s not what’s on voters’ minds,” he said. “They are completely disconnected. They are connected to their base, but their base is not the majority.”

As a result, Russo said, Democrats are reduced to using “horseshoe analogies” about how great it is to come close.

Russo scoffed at the notion of an about-face for Democrats in the 2018 election. “It would have to be a wave election. I think we’re far from seeing a wave. The way you get a wave is you have to get momentum.”

Trump basked in victory Wednesday night at a Make America Great Again rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Trump told the enthusiastic crowd that the two latest victories are likely to help him pass his health care bill and tax reform — as well as to argue that Democrats should try to work with him on areas of interest.

Referring to the Senate draft of his health care plan that will be released Thursday, Trump said, “I’ve been talking about a plan with heart” — and he told lawmakers “add some money to it.”

“If we had even a little bit of Democrat support,” Trump added, they could cut a deal, but “they just want to obstruct.”

Before he harkened back to his June 2015 campaign announcement that started with a theatrical descent on a Trump Tower escalator, the president savored Tuesday night’s victories a final time.

“Their plan isn’t working,” he said of Democrats. “They thought they were going to win last night in Atlanta” by spending $30 million “on this kid who forgot to live in the community.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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