Dem loss in Georgia underscores party's challenges

Angie Massey
June 26, 2017

House Democratic leaders tried to play down the loss ahead of time, pointing out that the Georgia race took place on GOP-friendly terrain, as did the other recent special elections.

When the top post among House Democrats might open up, though, Pelosi hasn't said. "I believe that she is not the leader for the future of the Democratic Party".

Georgia's outcome follows similar results in Montana, Kansas and SC, where Republicans won special House races by much narrower margins than they managed as recently as November.

In the end, the Republican victor, Karen Handel, 55, took 52% of the vote.

Her approval ratings are low, and while House Speaker Paul Ryan's are similarly weak, the idea of ousting Ryan doesn't animate Democratic voters the way defeating Pelosi proved to motivate conservatives in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, as well as the special election in Georgia.

House Democratic leaders are taking some comfort in coming in a close second for a seat that's always been firmly in GOP hands.

Pelosi isn't in danger of losing the leadership perch she's long held, though she did fend off her toughest challenge ever last fall from Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who argued the party needed someone who better understood the rural, working-class voters that were critical to President Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton previous year. When incumbent Tom Price was appointed by President Trump to serve as the head of Health and Human Services, Ossoff saw an opening in the special election to fill his seat. But now, after a string of disappointments, those divisions have re-emerged, though Pelosi appears unlikely to face an immediate challenge. "The CEO out. The coach would be out and there would be a new strategy put in place", the NY lawmaker added.

"I think there was consensus within the room that there are other members within the caucus who feel just like we do", Vela told CNN. "And I'm not sure that that's there yet".

"You may not know this, my colleagues, but every time I pray, which is very frequently, and certainly every Sunday, I pray for all of you".

Some Democrats, though, have wanted her out, particularly after the party was unable to win back control in 2016, a year when the party was seen as having a decent chance of doing so. Privately, Republicans have complained about Handel's campaign and suggested that the former Georgia secretary of state - who lost two subsequent statewide bids for higher office - wasn't a strong candidate.

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Pelosi added that Republicans have long sought to target Democratic leaders in their advertising, "and usually they go after the most effective leaders".

It was enough to help Handel raise more than $5 million, not a paltry sum in a congressional race, but barely a fifth of Ossoff's fundraising haul.

And Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, remarked that "we had no business winning those districts" due to their GOP allegiance.

But Pelosi continues to command great loyalty from many in the House, and she insisted her position was not in jeopardy.

"The president's numbers are in the thirties and our base is energized", she wrote.

"In the districts where we are truly competitive, I don't think that [anti-Pelosi] message is going to hold very much", said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif. "We're used to that", said New Jersey Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell.

But prescriptions for how the Democrats should move forward varied. In the meantime, Democrats need to focus on winning back working-class voters in states such as Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania as well as discovering new ways to mobilize young voters who are attracted to grass-roots candidates.

One thing most everyone could agree on: Coming in second doesn't cut it now and wouldn't be an outcome to celebrate next November.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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