The Republicans won last yesterday’s special election in the Arizona 8th Congressional District, maintaining control of the seat they have safely held for decades. The seat was so uncompetitive that Democrats did not even field a candidate in recent years. President Trump won the district by 21 points and candidate Mitt Romney won it by 25 points. Congresswoman-elect Lasko won by 5 points. Democrats are excited by this result, but it seems like more of another failed opportunity.
The Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chose not to invest to win this race. To be fair, they simply do not have the resources to fully support every race in the House and Senate and these special elections can be incredibly expensive because they tend to be the only show in town at the time and the parties tend to go “all in.” In this race, because it was close, Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell devoted significant fundraising efforts for Lasko to save the seat. Consequently, Republicans outraised Democrats at least 4 to 1, raising over 1 million dollars. President Trump recorded “robo-calls” to get the vote out for Lasko. Democrats far from conceded the race, but did not match Republican efforts. This was in part to the fact that the Democratic candidate was very liberal and thus was not seen as sufficiently competitive to win the seat in such a conservative district.
Democrats believe that closing the gap from 21 or 25 points to a mere 5 points in such a solid Republican district supports predictions of a big Democratic Congressional victory in November. Closing gaps does not win seats, although it certainly makes incumbents work harder to keep their seats and perhaps forces some modification of views. The Democratic leadership does not believe the party needs a defined, cohesive message to win this year. With the election largely serving as a referendum on President Trump and the Republican Congress that may be true to some extent. However, no matter wat the electorate thinks of Trump and Congress, Democrats must find and support strong, viable candidates to run for every seat. House candidates must be a good fit for their district, specifically for the general election. Primary voters, if they want to win the seat, need to vote accordingly.
If an admittedly too liberal Democratic candidate forced Republicans to scramble at the last minute to hold the Arizona 8th District seat, and they won by only 5 points, I argue this strongly suggest Democrats wasted an opportunity to win the seat. Even a slightly more moderate candidate could have better appealed to independent voters, and even some disaffected Republican voters. Such a candidate would have been “worth the investment” from the national party that was lacking in this race. And just maybe such a candidate wouldn’t have even needed the support. Winning in November is not a guarantee. The DNC and Democrats in all states need to do a better job of recruiting and supporting candidates in every race. Arizona 8th was not a moral victory for Democrats. It was another failed opportunity.