Lessons from Georgia and Bringing the Democratic Party Back to the People

John Ossoff lost the special election in GA-06 last night to Republican Karen Handel.  This election was the most expensive congressional race in history.  Ossoff received $23 million in donations from individual donors alone; estimates for the entirety of expenditures made by Ossoff or on his behalf is well over $50 million.

Karen Handel went on record stating that she did not believe same-sex couples should be able to adopt children and that she did not support a livable wage.  In the past, Handel has refused to acknowledge human effects on climate change.  She also supports the Republican American Health Care Act.

How many times will democrats have to lose before we realize there is a significant problem with our approach to federal elections?  We lost in Kansas; we lost in Montana; and last night we lost in Georgia.  Immediately after the major networks called the GA-06 race for Karen Handel, I started seeing messages on progressive Facebook pages here in IL-16 imploring people to look ahead at the next election (this time in Virginia state elections).  And of course these pleadings came with an attached link to Act Blue to contribute money to the relevant democratic political action committees.


Ossoff was unsuccessful in GA-06 tonight after spending more money than any Democrat in history for a congressional seat. What does that tell us? You can’t buy elections any longer.  What else does it tell us? If Democrats want to win we need to re-evaluate what we are doing and how we are doing it.  Only fools continue to do the same thing and expect something to change.

Honestly I am dreading the news and analysis tomorrow.  I can predict the coverage now.  “Progressive ideals are popular nationwide!  We will win next time!”  “Georgia has been Red since 1979! We can win a more moderate place!”  “Don’t worry about it fellow progressives!  We closed the gap between 2016 and now by X% and (blah blah blah lots of math).”

Enough.  We democrats lost and there is no excuse for it except we did not persuade voters to vote blue.  We can talk until we are blue in the face (pun intended) about statistics and how things are better now and how next time we will get them.  But it is on us and it is on Ossoff.  $23 million couldn’t do it because our approach was wrong.  $100 million would not have done it.  The tragedy is a person who believes same sex couples should not adopt and who does not believe in a living wage beat us.  Better statistics than 2016 does not give us seats in Congress.  Winning congressional races gives us seats in Congress.

I want to change.  I want my campaign to be different than what Democrats have tried in the past because that is clearly not working anymore.  It doesn’t work specifically in rural America, which is where IL-16 is and who I intend to represent in Congress.  This is what I plan on doing and what I would propose to others running on the democratic ticket in rural America.  It is different than they typical democratic playbook by design.  There is something inherently immoral in asking for campaign donations and using them in a way that has a recent history of utter failure.  I want to change the game and hopefully this can be a start to a different way of doing business on the campaign trail.

We need to stop opposing the GOP and clearly state what the Democratic Party of the United States stands for and what we believe in.

I have spent a significant amount of time speaking to individuals and groups that are not self-identified Democrats (more on this below).  I consistently get feedback from these encounters and there are a lot of similar themes expressed.  The foremost concept I get involves the democratic platform and can be expressed into three different statements:

A.  What does the Democratic Party stand for? Why can’t any democrat express that or just say what it stands for?

B.  Why are Republicans actively trying to help the economy and create jobs, while the Democratic Party is worried about transgender bathroom usage and making police officers look racist and awful? (This is a paraphrase, but only a very slight paraphrase).

C.  Why aren’t Democrats patriotic? Why don’t they love America?

I grew up in rural America among what progressives have termed “working class whites,” and I can identify a lot with these concerns.  I held my nose and voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 because she wasn’t Donald Trump.  I wasn’t on board with her primarily because I had no idea what she stood for or what she was proposing.  I understood Bernie Sanders (and voted for him in the primaries).  I understood Donald Trump.  To this day I couldn’t tell you what precisely Clinton wanted to do or how she proposed to do it.  That is not a useful way to run a campaign.

I try to condense my ideas down to their lowest common denominator, partly because I can make the ideas simpler to communicate.  I can’t speak for all Democrats.  I am hardly a cookie-cutter Democrat and even among the Democratic Party there is a significant amount of differences in opinion on what the party stands for and what our platform can be.

This is what I believe in.  There are three stances.  All three are derived from my campaign slogan and philosophy on government: People Before Politics.  America’s backbone is in the principle We The People hold the power and legitimacy to govern.  We The People call the shots.  We The People can change things if we don’t like how things are going.  My stance is as follows:

  1. We are committed as Democrats to acting as a catalyst for the American middle class to work towards achieving the American Dream.
  2. We are committed as Democrats to putting People Ahead of Special Interests.
  3. We are committed as Democrats to the Constitution of the United States and the Rule of Law.

Government exists to make sure everyone who works hard and has ambition should have a fair shake at achieving the American Dream, however one chooses to define that.  We need to take care of our citizenry.  This means starting from day one – We The People need to guarantee high quality healthcare to all citizens as a right no different than a right to police and fire protection.  We The People need to make education affordable for anyone that wishes to attend trade school or college.  We The People need to make sure policies are in place to support and assist small businesses and manufacturing thrive in a global marketplace if we choose to continue our policy of free trade.  We The People need to improve our physical infrastructure (roads and bridges) and our social infrastructure (equal pay for equal work; working to solve the opioid epidemic, etc.)  And every citizen should benefit from the Democratic Party’s work – regardless of whether they voted democratic or not.

Each of these issues deserves its own article, and I am working on that.  But for now this is what I stand for.  I live in LaSalle County, and I see a lot of problems in rural America.  But I also see a lot of Americans here that just want a fair shake.  They feel Democrats are out of touch with them; I want to change their minds and provide them a path to prosperity for the future.  I see a lot of empty buildings and underemployed people in rural America, and there is no reason why in five or ten years’ time we can re-energize the rural American workforce by investing in We The People.

We need to stop sucking at political communication. 

In my campaign I have talked to many diverse groups.  This is entirely by design.  I use a baseball analogy when I speak: within a 162 game season, 50 games are statistically guaranteed to be losers and 50 games will be statistically guaranteed to be winners.  The 62 games in the middle are the ones that matter and the ones that separate the 2016 Chicago Cubs from the 1899 Cleveland Spiders.

What does that have to do with campaigning?  We need to get out there and look for people who are not predisposed to vote for Democrats or Republicans.  If you are a strong Democrat and the ballot says…

…then chances are you will be voting for a fictional cartoon duck.  Similarly, if you are a lifelong Republican who has personally benefited from republican principles it is unlikely that anyone can change your mind.  But research has shown that a majority of people, when pressed, do not self-identify with either majority political party.  These people may be self-identified independents that are interested in single issues or otherwise apolitical people that (for whatever reason) do not regularly think about the political process or regularly vote.

Democrats need to hit the pavement and start talking to independents and apolitical people because this is where we will get the most benefit in expressing the democratic platform and how our beliefs benefit America.

I saw John Ossoff spend tens of millions of dollars and, taking his campaign strategy completely from the DCCC’s playbook, he got nowhere with it.  Argue with me all you want about improvements and the future and whatever else but politics is a zero sum game.  You win or you lose and there is no prize for second place.  Karen Handel is going to Washington and John Ossoff is not.  And that is entirely the fault of his communication with the people inside GA-06.

In the law you are always taught in trial advocacy courses to speak to your jury.  Your client does not matter; the opposition does not matter; the judge does not matter.  The only people in the entire universe that matter during the trial are the fourteen people in the jury box.  Twelve of them will vote.  You absolutely must tailor your arguments, the factual presentation, the exhibits, and even your body language and appearance to persuade the individuals in the jury box that your client is right.

Let’s see how John Ossoff did with that.  As an Illinois resident I was not subject to the (likely) constant barrage of television and mail advertisements, but I did see a good number of Facebook ads looking for donations and making Ossoff’s candidacy into a national issue.  I also got emails.

This is the most common advertisement I saw on social media:

This was pointed out by a person who got emails from his campaign.  These are actual subject lines the DCCC was sending out related to John Ossoff:

And to show a pattern, these are emails send out in support of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race:

I don’t know why I have to state this, but never superimpose a picture of the candidate in front of a graph that is going down to zero!  I’m going to say that again.  Stay positive with your messaging and make sure the messaging is on point!!  All I remember from Ossoff’s presence outside of Georgia was how he was likely going to lose because he didn’t have any more money.  Or how he was going to lose because there wasn’t enough money to keep the good fight up against Handel.  Obviously the DCCC and Ossoff’s campaign felt that the average Democrat voter or supporter was nothing but an ATM machine that was susceptible to political boogiemen and scary stories.

We don’t persuade anymore in regular life and that is a real shame.  Maybe it’s because people interact more on the internet, or maybe it’s because high schools and colleges rarely teach rhetoric, but generally people are better at opposing a point than convincing someone of the values of another point.  Standing on a sidewalk with a sign that opposes something is significantly easier than writing a letter to the editor in support of something – in a way that convinces people as opposed to making dog whistles to people who already agree with you.  There is a difference.

My campaign will be focused on November 6, 2018 and convincing people of all political persuasions that my way is the best way for rural America and IL-16.  I’m unconcerned about the democratic primaries and will not be spending money on fighting other Democrats.  I am unconcerned about Adam Kinzinger’s negatives and would rather talk about my positives.  Kinzinger will illustrate his negatives all by himself.  We as Democrats need to give We The People something to believe in and something to vote for.  That is my sole mission through November 6, 2018.

We need to get over ourselves.

This is a hard point to talk about, but it needs to be said and we need to have straight talk about it.  A college friend of mine explained political teamwork in this way, and I agree with it.  The Republican Party is like a tight knit high school football team.  Every member knows the goal and knows their role.  If the coach tells them to do something, the players holler out “sir, YES SIR!” and do it.  The Democratic Party is also a team, but it is more like a high school golf team.  Yes, they all wear the same shirts and ride the same bus to the course, but ultimately individual performances matter over team performances and leadership is non-existent.

The Democratic Party is fragmented now and we need to get over it and learn to work together as a team.  As a team we can overcome almost anything.  As a fragmented group of people all shouting that their way is the only way we will continuously lose.

This fragmentation is only partially brought on by what the media seems to point to as the sources: Hillary Clinton’s loss and generational differences in the party.  These are important, but I personally believe that the biggest motivating factor to party fragmentation is America’s two-party system.  If you are opposed to something the Republicans are doing, you are a Democrat and vice versa.  That has put a diverse group of people on the same team – Bernie Sanders progressives, Roosevelt / Kennedy Democrats, single-issue voters that the Republicans don’t support, and (occasionally) someone who will side with the Democrats based on their career or geographic location.

This makes teamwork hard – it is hard to work together with a lot of people that might not support the end results you are seeking – but see our diversity as strength.  Diversity is what America as a whole has been built on.  We can reach a great many voters and a great many viewpoints if we all work together.  I hope to persuade as many people in the Democratic Party to believe in me just the same as I hope to persuade non-Democrats to vote for me.  It is all in the art of persuasion.


Chris Minelli