“Jon Ossoff, the Democratic nominee, has outspent his Republican opponent, Karen Handel, by a 7-to-1 margin. Ossoff reported spending $22.5 million; Handel has only spent $3.2 million. Independent expenditure organizations, however, have spent more than twice the combined amount for both candidates. The influx has turned the race to replace former Rep. Tom Price — now head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — into the most expensive House contest in U.S. history, with a price tag that’s topped $55 million and is still rising.”
The outcome of yesterday’s special election in Georgia’s 6th congressional district proves one thing: Democrats can’t just spend their way into a seat.
As the most expensive congressional race in American history, topping out at more than $60 million, the runoff between newcomer Jon Ossoff and former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel drew an enormous amount of national attention. The race is being painted as a test for both parties, with Ossoff’s defeat being colored as a massive setback for the Democratic Party.
The reality is a little more complicated. The Georgia 6th district has been held by a Republican for 40 years, and Obama lost the district in both the 2008 and 2012 elections. A victory by a Democrat, especially one as young and inexperienced as Ossoff, would have been miraculous. And yet, Democrats from across the country poured money into the unlikely race. A lot of money. $23.6 million dollars went directly to his campaign, with another $7.6 million spent by independent groups on Ossoff’s behalf.
The most important takeaway from this race is that money won’t always buy you a seat in Congress. And it shouldn’t be able to. The amount of money spent on what at any other time would have been an inconsequential race is ludicrous. Money has too much of an influence on our political system, to be sure. But it is not a surefire winning strategy.
If Democrats want to win back the House, they need to stop focusing so much time and attention on pouring money into races and making candidates beholden to whichever donor can contribute the most. Instead, they need to reinvest in the communities they are running in and advance clear policy platforms that are rooted in the needs of their potential constituents.
People on both sides of this race should be embarrassed that so much of the attention came down to money and fundraising. That is not what American politics should be about and it is not an effective way to win an office.