Even with a Republican victory, there are lessons to learn. After weeks of media prognostications and massive money funneling into the special election for the Sixth Congressional District of Georgia, the race was won by Karen Handel, a Republican. Her opponent, Jon Ossoff, outspent her, and the media declared this election a referendum on President Trump. They predicted a win for Ossoff, but in the end, the massive money and media missives were for naught.
How much was spent? According to a New York Times article this Wednesday by Alicia Parlapiano and Rachel Shorey titled, "Who Financed the Georgia Sixth, the Most Expensive House Election Ever," Ossoff's campaign raised $23.6 million (mostly from outside Georgia) versus the Handel campaign, which raised $4.5 million (mostly from inside Georgia). Outside groups also spent money in the race, but were not controlled by the candidates. The Democratic side spent $7.6 million, while the Republicans spent $18.2 million. When the campaign and party expenditures are combined, the Democrats spent $31.2 million while the Republicans spent $22.7 million.
The one thing we can be sure of was that this election was an economic boom for advertisers and media outlets. According to Greg Bluestein of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, "The tidal wave of spending led a local television broadcaster, WXIA, to temporarily add a 7 p.m. newscast on its sister station." A sure sign that money drives business.
This is a much more money than normal. According to "The price of winning just got higher, especially in the Senate," by Soo Rin Kim of opensecrets.org, "outside groups are a relatively unimportant factor in most House races, unlike in the Senate. Their share of the average cost of winning in the House has been relatively steady: Of the $1.5 million total average cost of winning a House seat including outside spending this cycle, 14 percent came from outside groups, a relatively small increase from 2014's 11 percent."
While Kim noted outliers, "The biggest spending winner of a House bid with actual competition was Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), who spent $6.7 million to secure her seat" in a race that spent $7 million total. None of that was anywhere near the almost $53 million spent in this recent special election.
Most of the money on the Republican side was spent by outside groups. The Congressional Leadership Fund ran a TV ad that showed people in San Francisco saying Ossoff was "one of us...We already have Nancy Pelosi as our Congresswoman, now you're going to give us Jon Ossoff as our Congressman."
The Takeaways: Money and Media do not an election make. Voters do not take kindly to outside money flowing into candidates' coffers in massive amounts (better to have the money flow through outside groups where at least it can easily be noted as an independent expenditure).
Media and messaging is important, but there is growing skepticism from voters. While Ossoff harped on helping the economy and cutting Washington waste, without mentioning the word "Democrat," voters were able to connect the dots.
The bottom line is that Trump might not be as big of a drag as thought. As independent as he may be in his tweets, thoughts and deeds, voters appear to recognize that some daylight may exist between the president and a Republican candidate.
The takeaway for congressional Republicans? Instead of worrying about the executive branch 100 percent of the time, focus on passing legislation that will help your constituents back home, and make sure, when you run in 2018, that you have results. You certainly will not have anything to run against (that will be the Democrats' domain -- while anti-Pelosi rhetoric may have worked in the special election, it would be harder in a general election).
When Speaker Paul Ryan, R., Wis., welcomed the representatives this year, he said, "And to the majority, especially to our returning members, I want to say, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. This is the kind of thing that most of us only dream about. I know-because I used to dream about it. The people have given us unified government. And it wasn't because they were feeling generous. It's because they wanted results. How could we live with ourselves if we let them down? How could we let ourselves down? I have for many months been asking our members to raise their gaze and aim high. Now, let us not be timid, but rather reach for that brighter horizon."
The challenge is for our House and Senate Republicans to reach for the brighter horizon and get stuff done. The people want results.