SANDY SPRINGS, Georgia — Democrats are tired of losing and the accusations are flying.
After going all in and coming up short in Georgia’s special election Tuesday, Democratic lawmakers and political operatives are venting their frustration at losing every competitive special congressional election so far this year.
Many were upset that Democrat Jon Ossoff blunted what was arguably his greatest asset — antipathy toward President Donald Trump — by going relatively easy on the president and avoiding controversy at all cost. Others, however, countered that Ossoff was a fine candidate who was the victim of a party that is too cautious and has lost its ability to connect with voters.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), one of the party’s rising stars, said Democrats have been distracted by the investigation in Trump’s alleged ties to Russia and need to focus more on making a concrete impact on voters’ lives.
“We’ve been hyper-confused for the past five years,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “Some of the time we’re talking about economic growth, some of the time we’re talking about economic fairness.”
“We need to be hyper-focused on this issue of wage growth and job growth — I think Democrats are scared of this message because it’s what Republicans have been talking about,” he added.
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) said, “Close is only good in horse shoes. A loss is a loss…We can’t just dismiss it. We need to review it together.”
Democrats also have an “authenticity” problem, he said, noting, “I think that there are a lot of people who look at the Democratic party and aren’t sure that we aren’t also captive by special interest — and that’s not true.”
On her path to victory, Republican Karen Handel returned to the GOP playbook of tying Democratic candidates in purple-to-red districts to the party’s liberal wing, and especially to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Ossoff presented himself as squeaky clean alternative with uncontroversial plans like cutting government spending.
“One important lesson is that when they go low, going high doesn’t f**king work,” tweeted Neera Tanden, the president of the liberal Center for American Progress think tank, referring to Michelle Obama’s maxim from the 2016 campaign.
Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), a former Marine with three degrees from Harvard and one of the party’s up-and-comers, said the defeat should be a “wake up call for Democrats.”
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), a progressive who represents Silicon Valley, said Democrats have failed to appreciate how massive changes in the economy are impacting voters.
“We have to figure out how we are going to speak to people’s economic anxiety,” he told NBC News. “We’ve failed at doing that.”
“Our politics are still conventional, incremental, are not very different, frankly, from our proposals from 10 years ago,” he added.
And when Democrats don’t run on bold economic ideas, Khanna added, “These elections will end up being about what party people are from or more trivial issues like that.”
Jeff Weaver, Bernie Sanders’ former presidential campaign manager, said that while Ossoff ran a good campaign, Democrats should not have made that race their only cause. Instead, Weaver argued, the party should have offered more help to its candidates in the Montana and Kansas special elections earlier this year.
“In the Montana race, the one I’m most familiar with, with a fraction of the investment that was made in Georgia 6 we likely could have sworn in a Democratic congressperson,” Weaver told NBC News.
“Should we as Democrats compete in economically conservative districts like Georgia 6? Absolutely. We should compete everywhere. But the more likely road to a Democratic U.S. House majority runs through places like Kansas, Montana and South Carolina,” he added.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee quickly sought to move past the Georgia debacle by distributing a memo to staff and Democratic lawmakers officially declaring — for the first time — that Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) believes “the House is in play.”
“I don’t make this statement lightly — I’ve never said it before,” Luján said. “This is about much more than one race: the national environment, unprecedented grassroots energy and impressive Democratic candidates stepping up to run deep into the battlefield leave no doubt that Democrats can take back the House next fall.”
And former Obama White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer warned Democrats to avoid yet another round of self-flagellating recriminations.
But Anna Galland, the executive director of MoveOn.org, said the Georgia race shows “Democrats will not win back power merely by serving as an alternative to Trump and Republicans.”
“In the closing weeks of the race, Ossoff and the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] missed an opportunity to make Republicans’ attack on health care the key issue, and instead attempted to portray Ossoff as a centrist, focusing on cutting spending and coming out in opposition to Medicare for All,” she said.
Some of the toughest criticism came from the Sanders wing of the party.
RoseAnn DeMoro, the president of National Nurses Union, suggested the Democratic party’s current strategy was “insanity.”
But Stacey Abrams, the minority leader of the Georgia House and a 2018 gubernatorial candidate, said Democrats need to take a breath and focus on the long game.
“I’m a red state Democrat in the South,” she told NBC News. “We understand that we have to make incremental progress, that we don’t win in one fell swoop.”