Two elections were won by Republicans last night. Neither went the way people expected.
While everyone was fixated on Georgia last night, there was a near Hindenburg-level catastrophe for conservatives in South Carolina. Republican Ralph Norman nearly suffered defeat at the hands of Democrat Archie Parnell in the 5th District. He only squeaked past by 3 percent – that’s about 2,800 votes. This is a district that former Rep. Mike Mulvaney won by more than 20 points last fall before resigning to become Director of the OMB under Trump. Trump also won this district by a similar amount as Mulvaney and remains more popular in South Carolina than the nation as a whole.
Norman is a well-known conservative state legislator, hailing from the most populous part of the 5th District. He won a close primary over his establishment-backed colleague Tommy Pope back in May, winning by only 200 votes. Norman has a strong conservative record in office and promised to join the Freedom Caucus if he won.
NEW: HFC Chair Meadows tells us Ralph Norman, who just won S.C. 5 primary will join Freedom Caucus if he's elected.
(Thx for correx @jbarro)
— Haley Byrd (@byrdinator) May 17, 2017
To lose him in Congress would have been a disaster.
Even though the primary was close, no one thought the general election would be. Norman led Parnell by double-digits in the sparse polling available. Hence, the Left ignored Archie Parnell, because he seemed to have no chance.
While this race flew under the radar, the special election in Georgia’s 6th District drew over $50 million in spending. The Georgia district was seemingly better turf for Democrats, because of Trump’s unpopularity and his previous electoral struggles there. Republican Karen Handel initially struggled to gain her foothold. So the Democrats went all in for Jon Ossoff, which may have been their biggest mistake. Liberals drew national attention to Ossoff and trumpeted leftist ideology in a conservative district election.
San Francisco liberals wanted to nationalize the Georgia race in order to validate their agenda. They nationalized it alright and obliterated Ossoff’s lead that he held at the beginning of June. They ginned up their base, but they also awoke GOP voters afraid of Nancy Pelosi. Even though those Republican voters are wary of Trump, they are still more afraid of Pelosi’s ilk, so they showed up in huge numbers for Karen Handel.
Back across state lines was the opposite story. Because no outside attention was brought to bear in South Carolina, turnout was light. Only about $2 million was spent. Roughly in line with normal Congressional races. The DCCC spent $300,000 while the NRCC didn’t even spend that much.
The DCCC’s money was aimed at turning out black voters, and much of the money went towards ads on African-American radio and canvassing in heavily black parts of the district. Other national Democrats, many with their eyes on an early 2020 primary state, also campaigned for Parnell, including former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan. Biden recorded a get-out-the-vote robocall.
Ralph Norman ran a good race, following a tough primary, and he is a strong favorite for re-election. But there are other districts out there much more reachable for liberals, including the one I live in. The Left only needs 24 seats to take control of the House of Representatives. It’s more of a threat than many conservatives want to believe.
The Democrat base is already energized while Republicans are more placid. You see this in the Congressional Generic Ballot, Right Track – Wrong Track, and Trump’s low approval numbers. Last night we saw the Democrats underperform in Georgia with high turnout and overperform in South Carolina with low turnout. This difference in turnout was whether GOP voters showed up. When turnout dropped, it saw a disproportionately higher drop in GOP voters compared to Democrat voters. It took massive spending and national attention to get conservatives to the polls in Georgia. Without that in South Carolina, the river of votes nearly dried up for Ralph Norman.
The turnout variations from district to district is one reason we see some funny outcomes in wave elections. People survive who you think are toast, because the base rallies to them when threatened. But then others lose sleeper races even though they look safe. Safety breeds complacency. Safe districts thus lose their security.
It doesn’t matter how much some in Congressional Republican leadership are congratulating themselves today. If GOP voters are lethargic in the future as they were in the 5th District, there could be storm clouds on the horizon for 2018. GOP leadership needs to give conservative voters real conservative legislation to be excited about. They need to give them a reason to show up, and they need to do it quickly – before next year’s campaigning starts apace. There is no certainty that “Stop Pelosi” will always be enough.