- - Monday, May 29, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Close, but no cigar. Or, close only counts in horseshoes, and the Democrats are still looking for something better than a moral victory in special congressional elections. The Republicans keep winning the real thing, the latest last week in Montana.

“Yeah, we lost,” says one Democratic strategist in the wake of the Montana vote. “But the 6 percent losing margin was a lot less than the 20 points Donald Trump won Montana by in November.” The Democrats get their third and fourth chances June 20 to light the prairie fire that could foretell success in the midterm congressional elections next year. Special elections in Georgia and South Carolina on June 20 will fill seats vacated by Reps. Tom Price and Mick Mulvaney to take positions in the Trump administration.

The pollsters and pundits, who should be chastened by their miserable performance over the past months (but aren’t), have declared the seat in South Carolina safe for Republicans, leaving Democrats to count on the race in Georgia. Democrats are still counting on the Trump Derangement Syndrome to fire up the party base to enable it to pull off an upset win — somewhere, anywhere — to buff prospects for taking back Congress next year.

That didn’t happen in Montana, even after Greg Gianforte, the Republican, committed an unforced error, “body-slamming” a reporter armed with an unwanted question, and did all he could for the Democratic cause. Fortunately for Mr. Gianforte, there was only an audiotape of the incident, and no video. Noise is not nearly as persuasive as actually watching a replay of the action.

Even more fortuitous for Mr. Gianforte, the Democrats were hoist on the petard of early voting, championed by the Democrats. Early voting subverts Election Day, by substituting many election days for the real thing. It’s at least possible — perhaps even probable — that if everybody had voted on Election Day the Democratic candidate would have won. “Early voting turned and bit the donkey,” wrote a Democratic pundit in New York magazine.

If Democrats can’t win the seat once held by Newt Gingrich, after the millions of dollars the party and its liberal interest-group allies are pouring into the race, together with the usual Democratic media hype, it will be a crushing blow to the Democrats. The result would blow a hole in the notion that voters are itching from coast to coast to vote the Republicans out of Congress next year.

Democrats think they can march through Georgia because President Trump won the district, which covers several Atlanta suburbs, by just 1 percentage point last year, and Jon Ossoff defeated a raft of candidates in the jungle primary with 48 percent of the votes, barely missing winning the seat outright. Tom Price, who was re-elected last year with 62 percent of the vote, says his landslide victory loudly suggests that this is hardly a “swing” district.

The 17 months between now and November 2018 is an eternity, as any pol or pundit could tell you. But if Karen Handel, the Republican candidate, wins the Georgia seat and runs the Republican Party’s offseason record to 4-and-0, Democrats, says New York magazine, “their grass-roots ‘base’ could have a collective nervous breakdown.” But given the relentless Democratic hysteria of the past six months, how could anyone tell?

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