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Psaki: Democrats, don’t lose your cool over Georgia vote

Jen Psaki

(CNN) – Democrats, don’t lose your mind and your motivation over Jon Ossoff’s defeat in GA-06.

Democrats wanted a win in the House special election in Georgia Tuesday. And many think they need a win in a special election this cycle. They don’t.

In 2010, the special election to fill the seat of Democrat John Murtha, a member who had held his seat in southwestern Pennsylvania for 36 years, was seen as a major test for both parties. And when it was over many Democrats breathed a sigh of relief that the party had overcome attack ads on issues ranging from Obamacare to Nancy Pelosi. But Republicans knew the narrow victory was a good sign for the midterms. They were right.

Even when you lose, special elections can offer an opportunity to try out a message and a window into the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing party.

Health care was a major issue in this election. And concluding that Handel’s narrow win is a validation of the Republican health care plan is wrong. It could have been the issue that narrowed the race. In a recent AJC poll, health care was the most important issue in the race, with 81% saying it was either extremely or very important in deciding their vote — more than any other issue.

In the same poll, voters disapproved of the GOP’s Obamacare repeal bill by 37 points (25% favorable to 62% unfavorable) including 66% unfavorable among independents.

Democrats were surprised by the massive influx of donations for their unknown candidate. It will require some work to maintain that enthusiasm and commitment to giving, but it is a good place to start from.

This district could be a model for the kind of demographic district Democrats should aggressively target — with a suburban, educated population. And with a narrow win by Handel, that strategy shouldn’t necessarily be discarded.

Ossoff, a young, energetic, former documentary filmmaker and Georgetown University graduate, nearly defeated a far more seasoned candidate, who formerly led a national advocacy organization in a district that has been represented by a Republican since the seventies.

Now Democrats are going to need to determine where to put resources, which are never unlimited, and whether donors and organizers should be focused on the districts where we have a greater chance of winning. According to the Cook Report, there were 94 Republican held Congressional districts more favorable to Democrats. Should Democrats play in every race or be more selective?

Democrats will also need to take a close look at what happened on the organizing front. According to early reports, Republicans did surprisingly well in turning out their voters and Ossoff did not get far enough ahead on early voting by mail — an organizing tactic that Democrats have traditionally relied on to bank more votes in advance of Election Day.

Democrats will need to brace themselves. Republicans are going to get a little wind in their sails from this victory. It will give Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and the NRCC (National Republican Congressional Committee) a momentary reprieve from the doubts and griping they are hearing from their caucus. And for the time being they may be able to keep vulnerable members in line.

But Republicans are far from being in the clear. And Democrats have a lot left to fight for.

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