On Tuesday, Republican Karen Handel won a fierce, closely-watched special congressional election in Georgia, staving off a spirited challenge from Democrat Jon Ossoff.
The fight for the Senate seat, deep in the heart of conservative country is a setback for Democrats who were hoping to make this election a referendum on the Donald Trump presidency, which is widely unpopular.
The White House was quick to paint Handel’s victory as a personal triumph for Trump.
White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters told reporters aboard Air Force One that Handel’s win serves as proof that “the American people are resonating with the president’s agenda” and want to see his agenda enacted.
Trump seemed to revel in the victory, tweeting:
However, the truth is a little more complicated than that. The special elections have been held in Kansas, Montana, Georgia and South Carolina, districts that are heavily conservative. Democrats have been overperforming in those races by historical margins.
In fact, according to a report in Vox, the main takeaway of the special elections held in 2017 is that the Republicans are in trouble. An examination of all the special elections shows that the Democrats have added to Hillary Clinton’s gains in well-educated districts and even won over some white working-class voters, which the former Democratic candidate struggled with, Vox reported.
Meanwhile, the knives seem to be out for Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who was demonised by the GOP side in the Georgia race.
According to a report in The Hill, Democratic leadership has come under intense criticism by the rank-and-file for Ossoff’s loss to Handel. The elders in the Democratic party have been accused of failing to learn lessons from the shocking loss to Trump: that running without a positive message isn’t enough to win elections.
“We’d better take a good, long, strong look in the mirror and realise that the problem is us; it’s the party,” Ohio representative Tim Ryan said Wednesday morning as he left a closed-door meeting of the Democratic Caucus in the Capitol.
Ryan described Ossoff as a “great” candidate who simply “couldn’t carry the national baggage of the Democratic Party”, The Hill reported.
On Wednesday, Pelosi attempted to reassure dejected Democrats after the party spent millions of dollars in the election, only to come up short yet again.
Pelosi, in a letter to colleagues, said that when Trump nominated House members to serve in his administration, he chose them from Republican districts the party knew it could win.
She said the Democrats “gave them a run for their money in all of them.”
Pelosi insisted Democrats still have a shot at winning the majority in next year’s midterm elections, saying, “The House remains in play now.”
Pelosi said the Democratic base is energised, adding, “We must now put forth our message.”
However, her words cut no ice with some, who are arguing for a new message and approach ahead of next year’s midterms.
Congressman Bill Pascrell of New Jersey said, “A loss is a loss is a loss, and there’s no excuses.”
Pelosi should watch her back. Unless the Democrats start winning more than just moral victories against a deeply unpopular president, her days as party leader could be numbered.