Sarasota is a picturesque little city about an hour south of where I live in Tampa Bay, famous for its beaches, artsy culture and the row of exclusive shops and restaurants along St Armand’s Circle. It’s also a Republican stronghold that has given Florida state politics the likes of Katherine Harris, who gained a certain amount of infamy when she served as Secretary of State during the 2000 election recounts and then later won two terms as a congresswoman. Democrats rarely bother to mount serious campaigns there, but even when they do you can drive for miles and miles through the upscale neighborhoods and hardly come across one of their yard signs. That’s why you really have to pay attention when a Democrat wins office in Sarasota—as happened yesterday in a stunner of an election:
Democrats on Tuesday won yet another special election for a state legislative seat once held by a Republican, this time in a battleground seat south of Tampa, Fla.
With all precincts reporting, attorney Margaret Good (D) took 52 percent of the vote, ousting Sarasota real estate agent James Buchanan (R).
And, as The Hill article ominously notes:
President Trump carried the state legislative district by a 5-point margin in 2016. It opened when the incumbent Republican quit to spend more time with her family and building her business.
Insult, followed by injury—all in a town where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by over 12,000 people. Much like Rocky Balboa before he got pummeled by Clubber Lang, the GOP thought this fight was a gimme—a notion from which they were quickly disabused by the voters who actually showed up. Boxing, it seems, isn’t the only sport in which the contender with the eye of the tiger wins.
As you’d expect, the Democrats are busy spinning this victory to their advantage—as well they should. After all, it‘s not as if James Buchanan comes without a political pedigree. His father has been a political fixture in the area for decades and currently represents Florida’s 16th District in Congress. Bumping him off was no easy feat for Margaret Good, and it certainly does not bode well for GOP prospects in the November midterms. If Democrats want to cement the narrative of a coming blue wave, they could hardly pick a better story to emphasize it.
The big question, however, is why Buchanan lost—and why Republicans have seen so many state offices flip from red to blue lately. The obvious answer, of course, is Trump fatigue—and that will certainly be the way the Democrats play it. They haven’t got much more to offer other than #Resistance, since their positions on immigration, taxes and how to handle the economy don’t poll very well with the public. But we also have to take a look at how Democrats like Good managed to win in solidly GOP districts—and, I can assure you, it wasn’t by making a sharp turn to the left.
Good won by campaigning as a moderate. This, I believe, didn’t so much convince GOP voters and independents to vote for her as it assured them that the seat falling into her hands wouldn’t be an utter disaster. As a result, Republicans who have had a tough time motivating themselves to vote because of Trump probably felt better about staying at home.
The message for Democrats is therefore simple: If you don’t run crazy people, you have a much better chance of winning.
On the state and local level, this has translated into victory for them. On the national level, however, the situation is radically different. Pressure from left-wing agitators and social media has seen to it that the Democrat Party as a whole is only and inch or two to the right of Raul Castro. If they dare to run moderates in the Congressional midterms, it’s unlikely that their base would stand for it.
Which leaves the GOP with an opportunity—if they’re smart enough to seize it. To that end, they can probably avoid a wipeout by focusing their campaigns on two simple things:
- Take a page from James Carville and make it all about the economy, stupid. Never mind Trump’s personality—whether you like him or not, his policies of deregulation and getting the tax cut through have ignited a fire not seen since the Reagan years. The GOP has jumpstarted the recovery that Obama promised but never delivered—so ask voters if they really want to jeopardize that by putting the Democrats back in charge. Tell them, “If you like your tax cut, you can keep your tax cut”—but only if Republicans keep control of Congress.
- Hammer on the Democrat’s corruption of the Department of Justice and the FBI, and of the State Department under Hillary Clinton. Don’t go into the weeds and all the legal mumbo-jumbo—just keep it simple and straightforward. A majority of voters already believe that the Obama administration targeted Donald Trump’s campaign and used government resources against him for political reasons. Reinforce that belief with the release of cold, hard facts from the inspector general’s investigation and remind people that if Democrats get control of Congress, they will kill that investigation dead and see to it that nobody is punished. Ask voters if they think we should go back to a time when government officials were above the law—because that’s what will happen if Democrats are allowed to run the show again.
The smart play is the simple play. And keep that eye of the tiger, GOP. This ain’t over by a long shot—not if you don’t want it to be.