One Democrat out, another in.
As upstart Democrat challenger Jon Ossoff prepped for (and then lost) his special election runoff against Republican Karen Handel in Georgia’s 6th District, Democrat Randy Bryce announced on Sunday his intention to challenge Republican House Speaker Paul D. Ryan in 2018 for Wisconsin’s 1st District.
The two men symbolize two different personalities the party could adopt in the midterm elections and potentially in 2020. Which vision will stick? And which has a chance of winning?
Ossoff, a 30-year-old documentary filmmaker, is a private school and Georgetown University graduate, repeatedly dinged for not living in the district he sought to represent. While campaigning in Georgia, he eschewed outright attacks on President Trump, but one of his sharpest offensives was to press his opponent for her antiabortion views. In turn, his Republican opponents easily painted him as a carpetbagger aligned with big government, anti-fascist protesters and, most damningly, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s “San Francisco values.”
Bryce, on the other hand, is a union ironworker, army veteran and lifelong resident of Southeastern Wisconsin, described by one commentator as “genetically engineered from Bruce Springsteen songs.” His evocative first ad directly attacked both Trump and Ryan on the Republican health-care plan’s unfairness to everyday citizens and played up his working class bona fides. Yet so far, Republicans have truthfully pointed out that his previous attempts at gaining elected office were failures.
Ossoff seemed representative of the party’s personality on the East and West coasts — younger, well-educated, quintessentially liberal. And in the first weeks of the Trump administration he quickly became a channel through which politically-minded (and often wealthy) progressives around the country could express their anger and funnel their funding. However, that wasn’t enough to turn over a traditionally red district.
Instead of that weakening vision, the image that Bryce is presenting in the Midwest could be the start of a more populist approach, moving back toward the Democratic Party’s historical ties to the working class and also mirroring some of the anti-elite, pro-blue collar forces that empowered the tea party in the early half of the decade and buoyed Trump to the presidency last year. Indeed, Bryce has already raised more than $100,000 in the first 24 hours after releasing his ad — but in the demoralizing aftermath of the Ossoff loss, it’s unclear whether Democrats will have the stomach for pouring funding and effort into another red district long-shot.
From early appearances, Bryce’s image seems more in line with what voters were looking for in 2016 and with what the Democratic Party failed to provide. That said, these two races (and many to come) will hang on more than just personality — the wealthy, Southern Georgia 6th and the middle-class, rust-belt economy of Wisconsin’s 1st undoubtedly have different preferences and demands, and Republican Party favorite Ryan will be hard to take down. Even so, Democrats will need to do more than focus on traditionally blue and obviously swing districts in order to succeed in 2018 and beyond, and their message and image will need to solidify in one direction or another. The question is, which will it be?