Tuesday, June 20, 2017
Georgia 6th: Fresh out and blue
by Tom Sullivan
Photo via Ossoff campaign Facebook page.
The polls are open for the special election runoff in Georgia's 6th Congressional District. Recent surveys show the most expensive congressional race in history between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel too close to call. If Ossoff pulls out a win in this red, suburban Atlanta district, it won't be simply the money that won it, but an army of really pissed off women:
“I tell people that I am fresh out of fucks,” says Tamara Brooking. “Seriously. I’m done. I’m done pretending that your hateful rhetoric is okay. I’m done pretending that people like us must be quiet to make you feel comfortable.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution summarizes what is at stake:
The race is much more than a vote to fill out the remainder of former U.S. Rep. Tom Price’s term after President Donald Trump’s tapped him to be health secretary. Both parties have poured unprecedented resources into the race — the cost now tops $50 million — and both see it as a chance to send a message to the American electorate.
Ossoff's post-Trump, post-Women's March foot soldiers are nervous no more. The campaign reports 12,000 volunteers. “There’s something of a renaissance of civic engagement and political activism afoot, and it’s being led by women,” Ossoff told New York magazine's Rebecca Traister. Liberal Moms of Roswell and Cobb Counties (LMRC) and Pave It Blue sprang up once the shock of November 8 began to sink in:
Democrats hope an Ossoff victory could deal a blow to Trump’s presidency and the GOP agenda, while giving other candidates a path to flipping more conservative strongholds. Republicans see a Handel win as a chance to bolster incumbents in competitive districts who are nervous about allying with Trump.
Especially surprising is that the closeness of the race can largely be attributed to the obsessive energies of the sixth district’s women, an army of mostly white, suburban working mothers who had until now lived politically somnambulant lives. In the wake of Donald Trump’s November defeat of Hillary Clinton, many of these Georgia women have remade their lives, transforming themselves and their communities through unceasing political engagement. To visit Georgia’s sixth in the days before the runoff is to land on a planet populated by politically impassioned women, talking as if they have just walked off the set of Thelma & Louise, using a language of awakening, liberation, and political fury that should indeed discomfit their conservative neighbors, and — if it is a harbinger of what’s to come — should shake conservative America more broadly.
And in finding their voices, Traister writes, women like Ann White, 63, found each other:
“My favorite slogan,” she said, trying to keep from crying as she spoke, “is ‘You are not alone.’ I found my people.” Like almost all of the Ossoff women I spoke to, White described her political awakening as a coming out. “I am no longer in the closet,” she said. “I am out, I am out blue. Everybody knows now that I’m a Democrat, that I’m liberal. And they’re kind of tired of it, but that’s okay. I’m not done. I’m just getting started.”
"Signs don't vote" is received wisdom in the campaign world. Clinton supporters last fall (and Obama supporters before them) were mystified that their candidates' signs were unavailable at our local Democratic headquarters — even to buy. I apologized repeatedly to Hillary Clinton supporters upset at the proliferation of Trump signs along the roadside. Statistic-spouting campaign professionals refuse to spend money on them, I explained. Signs are expensive. And they just get stolen, run over, and defaced. The pros prefer to focus on direct voter contact.
Woman after woman shared this sentiment. “I never even put a sign in my yard because I wasn’t sure how it would be received if it wasn’t a Republican sign,” said Cherish Burnham, 43, of her life as a Democrat, growing up in the red sixth district. On the morning of November 9, she said, consumed by hopelessness, she went to volunteer at her triplet sons’ elementary-school science class, where she saw two other mothers who also looked stricken. After tentative inquiries, the trio realized they were all upset about the same thing; they stood outside the school in conversation for an hour; they told her about LMRC. The expression of primal, agonizing anger that followed Trump’s election meant that for the first time, some women — even those who’d been living in proximity to each other for years— could hear each other for the first time.
“Every time I see an Ossoff sign I feel like I have an ally,” said Tamara Brooking, a 50-year-old research assistant to a novelist.
Grassroots volunteers are unimpressed. Signs are about territory for them, like gang symbols. But what yard signs can do is create buzz for candidates lacking name recognition. What their presence has done for Democratic women in Republican north Atlanta is make it safe for them to come out of hiding, find each other, and amplify their voices.
Many women have put LMRC magnets on their cars; if they spot a magnet on the parked car, they turn it 180 degrees as a kind of greeting. “It’s to let each other know, ‘my sisters are here,’” said Jennifer Mosbacher, 42. “It’s this feeling of camaraderie in an area where you have often felt very isolated and disenfranchised. But now you can go to your neighborhood grocery store and get flipped, and you’re like cool, someone else is here.”
Today they have to deliver. They have to, as one unofficial slogan says, "vote your Ossoff."
A former congressional staffer, Ossoff has run a very un-Bernie-Sanders-like, middle-of-the-road campaign as a technocrat who wants to cut wasteful spending. Handel is an anti-choice, former Georgia secretary of state with a penchant for vote suppression and a reputation for nearly destroying the Komen breast cancer charity. While the anti-Trump sentiment has garnered Ossoff ground troops among suburban women, what counts is turnout. Can the bland, 30 year-old inspire people, especially young people, to carry him over the finish line? Early voters have cast 140,000 ballots, including over 36,000 who did not vote in April.
“It’s showing in the early vote that Ossoff may not be exciting the young leftists that he got last time since his tone has changed,” Rountree said, pointing to Ossoff’s strategy of appealing to moderates as an explanation for a Democratic drop off. “His messaging in the runoff has been very bland and neutral.”
Nate Silver believes the race is a tossup, and any "takes" on the outcome will likely be overblown unless the margin of victory is greater than 5 points. By Silver's reckoning, Ossoff leads by a "not-very-safe" 2 point margin, adding, "You’d rather be 2 points ahead than 2 points behind, however." He continues:
However, it could pay off in crossover votes: A source familiar with the Ossoff campaign said their modeling shows that 10 to 15 percent of Republican voters could break to Ossoff, who is also winning virtually every Democratic voter. Analysis by a GOP analytics firm after the April primary showed that Ossoff was already attracting a small but significant share of cross-party support at that point.
Democrats noted that 33,000 new voters have participated in early voting, a group that is trending “more diverse, so more likely to be African-American by a significant margin, and more likely to be women,” said Tom Bonier, a Democratic strategist and CEO at TargetSmart, a data-analytics firm.
As I said, however, the vote comes at a critical time for Republicans — and extracting any signal at all from Georgia might be enough to influence their behavior. Republicans really are in a pickle on health care. The AHCA is so unpopular that they’d have been better off politically letting it die back in March, at least in my view. But I don’t have a vote in Congress and Republicans do, and they’ve tallied the costs and benefits differently, given that the bill has already passed the House and is very much alive in the Senate. The central political argument Republicans have advanced on behalf of the bill is that failing to pass it would constitute a broken promise to repeal Obamacare, demotivating the GOP base. That argument will lose credibility if a Democrat wins in a traditionally Republican district despite what looks as though it will be high turnout.
Nervous Republicans in Congress will watch this race for a sign it is safe to "come out," much as Democratic women did in Georgia's 6th. Should Handel lose, it may encourage them to begin standing up to Donald Trump and his legion of Republican doom. Then again, they may wait until they've secured their tax cut bill to do it. If even then.
Undercover Blue 6/20/2017 06:00:00 AM