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Republicans should learn and win again

Jackie Gingrich Cushman on

It's the first week of January 2021, and the 2020 elections are over. In my home state of Georgia, the votes from the runoff races were being tabulated. There were three statewide races on the ballot: two U.S. Senate seats and one Public Service Commission seat. All three races had incumbent Republicans facing off against Democratic challengers.

Republican incumbent Lauren "Bubba" McDonald Jr. beat Democrat Daniel Blackman in the Public Service Commission race and, as of Wednesday morning, had garnered more votes than either of the incumbent Republican U.S. senators. They should be outperforming him, and the fact that they are not should make you stop and ask: What went wrong in the Senate Republicans' races?

Incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler has lost to Democratic nominee Raphael Warnock. This was a special election to fill the two years remaining in the term of Johnny Isakson, the former Republican senator who announced his resignation in 2019 due to health problems.

Lesson No. 1: Self-funding does not always work. Just ask Michael Bloomberg.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp appointed businesswoman Loeffler in December 2019 (from a list of people who had expressed interest in the job, including your columnist). As reported by Greg Bluestein for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Loeffler had promised "that she would funnel $20 million of her own cash into the campaign, a substantial injection meant to ward off challengers from both parties."

Clearly, this did not work. Loeffler faced Republican and Democratic challengers and has now lost the runoff.

 

Lesson No. 2: Be yourself.

While President Donald Trump, also a successful businessperson, has always been exactly who he is (like him or not), Loeffler transformed her image from one of a sophisticated, smart, urban businesswoman to that of a baseball hat-, jean-, boot- and vest-wearing "outsider." My guess is that she hired the best consultants money could buy and heeded their advice. It fell flat with voters in terms of authenticity.

Lesson No. 3: Ongoing organizing is critical.

Warnock was boosted by strong support from Stacey Abrams, who had lost to Kemp in 2018 and then -- funded by national Democrats -- focused on building grassroots organizations to drive voter participation. Republicans need to replicate this infrastructure and invest heavily in organization -- and we need our major donors' support.

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