Jon Ossoff’s loss in the special election in GA-06 is causing all kinds of handwringing among Democrats. Instead of recognizing that the district was extremely difficult for any Democrat, some people are calling for Nancy Pelosi to step down. They reason that the House Minority Leader is so toxic that she’s turning people against Democrats.
That’s wrong. The people who hate Pelosi, or know enough to even have extreme feelings about her, are never going to vote for a Democrat anyway. I imagine the $25 million or so in Democratic spending did more to wake up and motivate conservative voters than the adds against Pelosi. In South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District the same night, progressives showed up to vote while conservatives didn’t. The lack of a spotlight let disgruntled Republicans sleep, making the unheralded race closer than the one everybody was watching.
Instead of focusing on the wrong targets like Pelosi or Russian interference, Democrats need to find a message that appeals to both the base and persuadable voters who supported Obama but also voted for Trump. That message needs to create hope for the future and alleviate the fears of uncertainty. It should be about opportunity and security.
In 2016 Clinton lost a substantial number of “change” voters who were not motivated by racism or xenophobia but want to see reform in our government to make it more responsive to the needs of middle-class and lower middle-class families. In North Carolina, Clinton also saw a dramatic decrease in the number of African-American men who showed up at the polls. They are change voters, too. They just couldn’t vote for Donald Trump.
Democrats need to give these voters something to vote for. They need to develop an overall of message of economic opportunity that addresses the concerns of people unsure of their future or that of their children. Too many parents are watching their children working two or three jobs with little security and few benefits to pay off staggering college debt. And too many young people, especially African-Americans, from poorer communities end up in the criminal justice system with records that hurt their earning potential for the rest of their lives. And too many people of all persuasions use drugs to alleviate the pain associated with a bleak future and dwindling opportunities.
The mistake Democrats made in the Georgia special elections was putting too much emphasis on a race that was likely to go Republican. Nancy Pelosi didn’t cost Ossoff the election and she won’t play a dominant role in 2018. Presidents and their successes or failures might dominate elections, but legislative leaders rarely do. Pelosi might need to go but that should happen when we have a new Congress, not now.
Instead, Democrats need to figure out who they are and offer voters a choice. While bashing Trump and a heartless GOP agenda, they need to put together an economic agenda based on opportunity that contrasts sharply of the Republican’s continued commitment to policies that disproportionally benefit the wealthiest Americans. We need a dose of populism to go along with a program that spurs economic growth. They aren’t mutually exclusive. The benefits of our society should go to all who build it, not just those who invest financially.