Eating the Elephant

By Mary McManus

Yesterday, Democrats Jon Ossoff (GA) and Archie Parnell (SC) lost their bids for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Not familiar with these races? Here’s the quick and dirty version: Donald Trump named South Carolina’s Mick Mulvaney the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. He named Georgia’s Tom Price the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services. As a result, both congressional districts held special elections to fill the vacated seats. With the president’s approval ratings at record lows, these races were seen as a golden opportunity for Democrats. If they could clinch wins in these two conservative districts, it would be seen as a repudiation of the Trump administration and a potential bellwether for broader wins in the 2018 midterms. Democratic donations and volunteers poured into these two districts but, in the end, both campaigns came up short.

In Alabama, we have our own special election coming up. On December 12th the state will decide who will fill Jeff Session’s vacated Senate seat. Given that, it would be easy for me to be discouraged by today’s results. Afterall, Alabama is arguably more conservative than either Georgia or South Carolina. The chances of electing a Democrat here are slim. I’m not discouraged though. I’m taking the long view.

Here’s why…

Before we can walk or run we have to learn how to crawl. Before we can win municipal, state or federal elections we have to meet more modest, organizational goals. What am I talking about?

  • I’m talking about identifying Democratic candidates so that no race in this state goes uncontested.
  • I’m talking about training prospective candidates so that not only are races contested, they’re competitive.
  • I’m talking about identifying Democratic volunteers in each precinct that can help educate and mobilize voters.
  • I’m talking about connecting new political organizations in the state that are brimming with energy to older organizations that have experience and established infrastructure.
  • I’m talking about voter registration, canvassing, and precinct parties.
  • Finally, I’m talking about identifying and celebrating incremental wins when they happen. This is critical for morale because big victories won’t come unless we start with some small ones.

In my precinct in Huntsville, down ballot Democrats performed better than Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. That means there are people who voted for Democrats in state and local races that may have opted out of voting in the presidential race or may have submitted write-in candidates. There also may be folks that voted Republican because of the national platform, that are more open to progressive candidates when it comes to local politics. That’s exciting! That’s where Alabama Democrats can make inroads. Change won’t happen overnight. We may face frustrating defeats in the special election later this year and even in the midterms in 2018. But, if we play our cards right, we’ll rack up some wins too. We’ll see more Democrats elected to local and statewide office. We’ll identify volunteers and donors. We’ll find talented candidates and encourage them to run.

Remember, there’s only one way to eat an elephant. One bite at a time.

Mick Mulvaney and Tom Price won their congressional races last fall by 20-point margins. Yesterday, Republicans held onto those seats by 3-point margins in heavily gerrymandered districts. Don’t be discouraged, folks. We’ve got too much work to do. In the meantime, our friends in South Carolina and Georgia are showing us how to take some awfully big bites.