Big bucks. Black folks. Donald Trump.
Those are three takeaways Illinois Democrats should heed in the wake of the recent special election in Georgia’s 6thCongressional District.
Three presumptions that money, African-American voters and the president of the United States can make or break a hotly contested race.
No, Illinois doesn’t enjoy the red clay, Hot ‘Lanta or the charming southern ways of Georgia. Yes, congressional races can have different political arcs.
Still, like in Jon Ossoff vs. Karen Handel, the 2018 Illinois gubernatorial race will be a high-stakes contest that garners national attention.
The Georgia election was touted as a powerful lever for Democrats in their fervent attempt to erode the GOP advantage in the 2018 electoral showdown.
The seat, in the northern suburbs of Atlanta, was vacated by Tom Price, when Trump named him Health and Human Services Secretary. Newt Gingrich, the former U.S. House Speaker and a Trump ally, held the seat for two decades. Democrats pledged to turn the district blue for the first time since the 1970s.
Ossoff lost to Handel by four percentage points.
In fact, Democrats have lost four special congressional elections since Trump took office.
Indeed, money talks in politics. Indeed, more than $55 million was spent in the Georgia battle, according to a New York Times analysis, making it the most expensive House race in U.S. history.
Illinois Democratic leaders are pushing gubernatorial hopeful J.B. Pritzker and his billions as the best hope to take on Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has already dropped $50 million of his own money into his campaign. As Ossoff learned, money doesn’t always buy political happiness.
The African-American voter is the Democratic Party’s most reliable base. Georgia’s 6th District is about 13 percent black, and that vote mattered.
That’s why the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reportedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads on black radio and digital media, and get-out-the-vote efforts. Ossoff trotted out high-profile endorsers, including a fellow Georgian and civil rights icon, U.S. Rep. John Lewis.
Black voters yawned.
In Illinois, the black vote is pivotal in a statewide race. That vote is vanishing. More than 12,000 black residents moved out of the state between 2015 and 2016, according to new Census data.
African-Americans in Illinois don’t want endorsements and ads. They want deliverables on jobs, health care, public safety and much more. If they don’t get them, why turn out in 2018?
Finally, there’s Trump, America’s most divisive Republican. Observers saw the Georgia race as a hammer on the controversial president. Liberal and progressive Democrats urged Ossoff to tie Trump to Handel in a full, frontal assault.
Instead, Ossoff demurred and ran as a centrist. “Handel largely avoided discussing the latest controversies spawned by Trump’s actions, and Ossoff only indirectly mentioned Trump, going out of his way to say that he was willing to work with the president if it delivered results,” The Washington Post reported.
Back in Illinois, Democratic activists and the candidates are working overtime to tie Rauner to Trump, clogging my in-box with nasty daily missives about their supposed political bromance.
Rauner won’t even utter Trump’s name. He regularly and ably dodges every question about the effects of the president’s policies in Illinois, from health care reform to police-community relations to education. So far, it’s working for him.
Remember the lessons learned on the red clay of Georgia.
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