The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (the DCCC) continues to suffer from a failure of vision. A month ago, Beltway Democrats conceded defeat in the Montana special congressional election before the race began. Last Tuesday, they did so again – this time in South Carolina.
While the DCCC went all in for Jon Ossoff in his bid to win the special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, it did little, if anything, to support Archie Parnell, the Democrat running in South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District.
Unfortunately, both Ossoff and Parnell narrowly lost their respective contests; but Parnell, the candidate who was pretty much ignored by the national Democrats, came within 3 points of his Republican opponent while Ossoff, who received millions of dollars in support, lost by 4 points. Of course, there’s no guarantee that Parnell would have won had the DCCC given him anywhere near the same level of support it gave to Ossoff. But he might have. A 3 point margin was far from insurmountable.
Consider this: In the special election, Parnell garnered 42,053 votes -- that's 63,219 fewer votes than was received by the Democrat running in the 2016 general election -- and she lost by 18 points! In last week’s special election, Parnell's opponent won with a slim margin – just 2,836 votes. A well-funded and well-organized Get Out the Vote effort for Parnell could have made up that 2,836 vote difference; after all, more than 60,000 likely Democratic votes were "left on the table." This was a lost opportunity, another failure of vision.
The DCCC might have anticipated the closeness of the South Carolina race had it focused more on how the district performed in recent congressional elections and not so much on the performance of the 2016 presidential candidates. It seems that national Democrats only invest in “winnable” districts, those where the last Democratic presidential candidate made a good showing. Unfortunately, that narrow view of “winnability” misses a myriad of local factors that can swing a congressional election.
Mesmerized by the fact that Trump had won Georgia’s 6th Congressional District by only a single point, the DCCC saw the district as ripe for flipping. But because Trump carried South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District by 18 points, the DCCC didn’t give that race a second thought.
The DCCC would have done well to note that in 2016 the South Carolina contest was more competitive than the 6th District race in Georgia. In the last three elections, the Republican candidate for Congress in Georgia’s 6th averaged a 28% advantage over the Democratic opponent. But in South Carolina’s 5th, the Republican congressional candidate averaged a 16% advantage over the Democratic opponent. While both districts could fairly be seen as congressional long-shots, South Carolina’s 5th arguably offered more fertile ground.
If you’re looking to win a race for Congress, perhaps that contest – not the last presidential election – would serve as a better guidepost. There’s something to be said for comparing apples to apples.
I am not suggesting the DCCC should have supported Parnell instead of Ossoff. Ossoff deserved the support he received. But both races deserved to be taken seriously, as did the race in Montana.
Beltway Democrats must start looking beyond the presidential percentages from the prior election in assessing a congressional candidate’s chances. If they fail to do so, there will be many more lost opportunities. We need not settle for moral victories, those where we come close to winning but still fall short. I’m all for seeing silver linings in election results, and there are some to be seen when we improve our percentages. But As Republican operatives were quick to point out, “Moral victories do not vote in Congress.”