If there is anything the party should have learned in the past four years, it’s that when Democrats try to nationalize a competitive race, the effort often backfires. It happened earlier this month: That’s why Susan Collins is still a Republican senator from Maine and why Democrats Amy McGrath in Kentucky and Jaime Harrison in South Carolina won’t be going to the Senate.
In the 2018 midterm elections, when recapturing the House was Democrats’ top priority, I saw firsthand how the nationalize-the-campaign strategy can fail. I was working one of those races deemed “red to blue” by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The national support for Richard Ojeda’s run was overwhelming. People from California, Massachusetts, New York and more filled our small Republican district in West Virginia. Yet once they went to work, many voters regarded them as invading strangers who had no idea how to talk to someone from Appalachia.
The Democratic blue wave of the 2018 midterms wasn’t as big as it could have been, when several of the House races that people were excited about, including ours in West Virginia, came up short.
Now I’m afraid Democrats will make the same mistake in the Georgia runoffs on Jan. 5 between Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Raphael Warnock, and Republican Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff. Flooding the state with what feels like enthusiasm and support could be a roadblock for the Democratic organizers and field workers who have dedicated themselves for years to this effort. Former Georgia congresswoman and gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams in particular has moved mountains to give these Democrats a chance of winning.
Before an army of national celebrities and Twitter warriors swarm Georgia, they should keep in mind that they don’t know the state, the people or the political dynamics. Everyone just wants to help, but imagine a 19-year-old Oregonian spending her Christmas break from Yale University knocking on doors and trying to tell someone in Atlanta how to vote. Imagine having your phone ring every night with people apparently calling from Boston or Brooklyn explaining what’s best for Georgia.
It’s counterproductive. And it could spell the difference between more Washington gridlock and a Congress that the Biden administration can work with to put the nation on a better path.
Out-of-state Democrats who want to help would do better to support Georgia from home. Donate directly to the Ossoff and Warnock campaigns to ensure they have the resources needed to compete with the inevitable deluge of Republican TV ads. Donate to Fair Fight to make sure organizers are supported. Donate to the Democratic Party of Georgia as it gears up for what promises to be two of the most closely watched Senate races in recent memory. But a word of caution: Even an avalanche of campaign spending can have drawbacks if all the TV advertising and mailed fliers and phone calls start to seem like a wretchedly excessive outside attempt to buy an election.
Democrats were understandably ecstatic to see a blue Georgia on the electoral map, but they would be wise to remember that although many Republicans in Georgia cast their presidential vote for Democrat Joe Biden, they also voted Republican down-ballot — including for the Senate. A blue Georgia was a rebuke of Trump, not an embrace of Democratic control. Democrats across the nation will want to push a “flip the Senate” message, but they should let the Ossoff and Warnock campaigns run on the message that got them this far — a message about affordable health care, a living wage, and protecting Social Security and Medicare.
Don’t risk two potential Senate seats for the sake of a good hashtag. And don’t go to the Peach State unless organizers ask for help. You can get a selfie with Stacey Abrams some other time.
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