- - Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Our earthquakes and landslides just ain’t what they used to be. The Democrats, like all political parties on the outs with voters, are entitled to look for hope and solace where they can find it, but the pickings in special congressional elections are so far pretty skimpy.

Democrats lost the first such contest in Kansas early this month, and came up short this week of what The Washington Post, one of the keepers of the party’s wishes and dreams, calls “outright victory.” Unless we’re counting moral victories as actual victories, the Democratic candidate in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District came up far short of outright.

He led the ticket, by a considerable but misleading margin, and now there’s the run-off on June 20 to determine the winner of a majority. The smart money is on Karen Handel, 46, the former Georgia secretary of state and a veteran of run-offs. A run-off, as Democrats and Republicans in states with run-offs know, is only the crucial second half of the election.

The coverage of these two special elections, first in Kansas and then in Georgia to plug openings left when President Trump recruited congressmen to fill openings in his Cabinet, reflects how skilled some political reporters are in finding the silver linings to assuage the pain of Democratic losers.

Jon Ossoff, the first round leader in Georgia, “captured the most votes with a groundswell of grass-roots activism and millions in donations fueled largely by antipathy to President Trump,” as described by The Post. Mr. Ossoff, for his part, celebrated what he says “is already a remarkable victory. We defied the odds, shattered expectations and now are ready to fight on and win in June.” One of his campaign chiefs calls it “a victory for the ages.”

Mr. Ossoff won 48.3 percent of the first-round vote, needing a minimum of 50 percent plus one to wrap it up without a run-off. With Karen Handel winning just 20 percent, that sounds like an insurmountable margin. But the result misleads, because it’s Mr. Ossoff who has the margin that is likely insurmountable.

This was what the political writers called a “jungle primary,” no racism intended, with 18 candidates, all but four of them Republicans, with the top two candidates duking it out in a run-off if necessary regardless of party.

The district, drawn over parts of three suburban counties just north of Atlanta, has been reliably Republican for many years, and is expected to remain so this year. It’s also one of the best-educated constituencies anywhere, with lots of college graduates with high-paying jobs, and Democrats are puzzled that such folk would be Republicans. The district went handily for Donald Trump, and aren’t his deplorables supposed to be the dumb ones?

Now the seekers after tea leaves that might reveal clues to how to destroy Mr. Trump and his administration move on to Montana and the next special election next month. After that, it’s on to South Carolina.

Moral victories aren’t much, as any moral but losing candidate would tell you. Sometimes a moral victory is not even better than nothing. But hope is hard to kill, which is what makes politics such an inviting game. Any number can play, as we saw this week in Georgia.

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