It had all the makings of a Hollywood movie — a reverse Cinderella story in every respect: a fresh-faced, good-looking member of the liberal, well-educated elite poised to win in a Southern red-state stronghold once held by Newt Gingrich.
Jon Ossoff’s rise in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District special election was to be, for many Democrats and many more in the media, a “barometer” of President Trump’s unpopularity and falling momentum.
USAToday: “Georgia Election Seen as Trump Political Barometer.”
ABCNews: “Trump Faces Early Referendum in Georgia Congressional Race.”
AP: “Georgia Special Election Shapes Up As Referendum on Trump.”
But that, of course, was assuming he would win. Now that Ossoff is headed for a much-harder-to-win runoff, I’m betting many of those headline writers and pundits who were desperate to prematurely link Ossoff’s impossible win to a Trump downturn would like to walk back the significance of his loss.
The allure was understandable. Here was a former Capitol Hill staffer-turned-filmmaker, educated at Georgetown and the London School of Economics, on the brink of beating 11 Republicans to turn blue a district that had been red for four decades, just months after Trump became president.
The likes of Samuel Jackson, George Takei and Chelsea Handler all tweeted their support for a guy they couldn’t vote for. (In their defense, not even Ossoff could vote for Ossoff, as he doesn’t live in his own district.)
Alyssa Milano personally drove voters to the polls. According to the Federal Election Commission, John Leguizamo, Sam Waterston, Kristen Bell, Connie Britton, Jessica Lange, Lynda Carter, Rhea Perlman, Jane Fonda and Jon Cryer all contributed to his campaign.
Democrats have helped Ossoff break a record for a special election in Georgia, raising more than $8.3 million for the shiny new upstart. His closest competitor, Republican Karen Handel, in comparison, raised $463,000.
But Ossoff hasn’t won, yet. So now those who insisted on linking his fate to Trump’s will have to live with it the unintended results — which is that Democrats haven’t yet figured out how to stop Trump at the ballot box.
The better strategy for Democrats might have been to temporarily suppress their bloodlust for the president and acknowledge the obvious: that it was always going to be difficult for a liberal to win a reliably red district that Trump himself won, albeit narrowly, and that Ossoff only managed to rise so high in the polls because 11 Republicans split their votes.
Knowing that, the smarter lesson is that Democrats shouldn’t be so afraid of fresh faces.
When Ohio’s 43-year-old Rep. Tim Ryan ran to unseat Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi this year, Democrats had a real opportunity to inject some new life into the party. Instead, the same old faces — Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid, Maxine Waters — are still haunting the halls of the Capitol like specters of a moneyed, coastal, elitist past.
Ossoff proved that a millennial who talks more about fiscal responsibility and balancing the books than he does Trump’s tax returns or his latest gaffes can be competitive even in red districts, that is, if Democrats don’t sabotage him in favor of protecting party elders.
The takeaway from Georgia’s 6 was never going to be Trump’s rise or downfall. And Republicans, if they can organize, will be in good shape to keep their seat. If any thing, the special election is a warning to Democrats — if they want to get close to overtaking Republicans, they’ll need more Ossoffs and fewer Pelosis.
Contact Cupp at thesecupp.com.
This column first appeared in the New York Daily News.
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