By Mike Shield and Rob Simms – Originally posted at CNN.com
There is an idiom in politics that “special elections are special” because a lot of the “normal” rules of campaigns do not apply to them. As the strategists on Karen Handel’s victory in Georgia’s 6th congressional district, we can attest that this phrase still holds true. As the Republican side continues to analyze the race that some labeled “possibly the most consequential special election since Watergate,” we have perspective on how crazy it was — and on what lessons Republicans can draw from it heading to 2018.
First, the craziness. Karen Handel won the most expensive House election in history. We (and others) estimate close to $60 million was spent on the race. Overall, Democrats outspent Republicans; and setting aside the much-discussed millions spent by outside groups, Jon Ossoff’s campaign outspent Karen Handel’s campaign $13.9 million to $5.6 million. It’s also worth mentioning that candidates get a lower rate on TV buying than outside groups, and Democrats (the candidate and those outside allies combined) ran 66% of the 18,023 TV ads in the runoff, versus 34% by Republicans, according to analysis and data compiled and reported by Advertising Analytics.
Now the lessons.
Lesson #1: Republicans need every part of the Republican coalition to win elections — including, and sometimes especially, those voters who supported President Trump in 2016. Karen Handel invited the President and the vice president to the district and they both came down to appear at fundraisers. They also recorded get-out-the vote calls for her.
Don’t play a game of trying to distance yourself from the President. Regardless of what commentators say on TV, this is not a winning strategy. You do not gain any new votes, and you alienate yourself from voters who are inclined to vote for you. Further, you invite endless questions about your “distance” rather than the issues you want to talk about. The fact is, President Trump is simply his own brand, and the idea that you can successfully turn a Republican member or candidate “into” President Trump was a strategy that Democrats tried in dozens of campaigns in 2016. It failed badly then, and it just failed again in Georgia.