The Democratic Party is quietly lowering expectations on its so-called “Trump referendum races,” according to a Wednesday report from Politico.
Democrats attempted a strong anti-Trump strategy in the Georgia special election that they hoped to extend to other Republican-majority districts, but are forced to concede that Republicans are fine with Trump’s actions.
Strategists caution that a strong reliance on the referendum angle could actually hurt Democrats if Republicans were to win the Georgia election, Jon Ossoff currently leads the poll heading into the run-off election, but the district is considered a “strong Republican” area.
“You can make two mistakes with special elections. One is to over-read and assume that because you won or lost, that is a predictor of the midterms. The flip side is that you can under-read,” former Clinton strategist Jesse Ferguson told Politico.
“Special elections are indicators, not prognosticators. They are testing grounds, but not conclusive proof-points, [so] it can be a mistake to read into a special election as giving the party a perfect road map for where to invest in the future. But at the same time, ignoring the consequences of these testing grounds comes at your peril,” he said.
Democratic candidate in the Georgia special election Ossoff is currently leading the polls, and Democrats nationwide took notice. Reps. Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, James Clyburn, and John Lewis all held fundraisers in Washington, D.C. for the leading Democrat.
Although the state Democratic party has benefited in national attention and funding since the race began, party officials worry that a potential Ossoff loss could eventually convince the national party leaders to not invest in Georgia elections in the future.
Ossoff’s campaign strategy has been to strongly nationalize the local election as the first fight Democrats can win against Trump.
“We don’t have to wait until 2018, 0r 2020 to fight back against Donald Trump,” Ossoff’s campaign website asserts.
“Jon Ossoff’s special election is the FIRST competitive Congressional race of the Trump era.”
Although Ossoff continues to lead in recent polling, his lead fell drastically from last week’s totals, indicating Republicans are gaining support as the field narrows.
Democratic leadership stood behind another anti-Trump local candidate during the 2016 Florida Senate race. Former Rep. Patrick Murphy took a hard stand against Trump, but that effect was reduced by Sen. Marco Rubio when he announced his continued opposition to Trump.
Former President Barack Obama, as well as Hillary Clinton and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi all campaigned for Murphy, bringing in millions of dollars in donations, Rubio ended up winning by a significant margin.
Although the anti-Trump strategy has yet to work for Democrats, they still hope to use that line of attack to replace GOP Reps. Ryan Zinke in Montana, and Mick Mulvaney in South Carolina.
The problem for Democratic strategists is that Republican Greg Gianforte is heavily favored to win in Montana, because he enjoys better name recognition statewide. South Carolina’s district is largely Republican indicating that the Democrat’s referendum will end up providing Trump with a much greater claim on the White House going into the 2018 elections if voting totals remain true to party registration numbers.
“There are some people on the national level who are saying this is the referendum of what’ll happen with Trump, because our state went for Trump. But the reality is it’s local. Our state is unique: We elected Steve Bullock and Trump by a wide margin,” Jim Larson, chairman of the Montana Democratic Party told Politico.
“For Democrats and Republicans to [look at the results and] say, ‘Oh, America hates Trump,’ or ‘America loves Trump’? Well, both of that is true,” said Larson. “Can there be lessons learned on elections that we win? Well, what worked in Delaware isn’t necessarily going to work in Montana.”
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