- Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
- While Tuesday night was full of important wins for Democrats in GOP-held House districts across the country, some of the party’s most high-profile breakout stars came up short.
- Some Democrats and progressive strategists are framing the close races as indications that the party is headed in a positive direction.
- But others say the losses reflect a disconnect between swing and red state voters and the leftward direction of some segments of the Democratic Party.
In a night full of Democratic wins in congressional races in every corner of the country, some of the party’s most high-profile breakout stars – fighting what many viewed as a fundamental battle between the insurgent progressive left and the hard right – failed to overcome challenging odds in red and purple states.
Despite high hopes and a surge in Democratic energy and turnout across the country, Texas Senate candidate Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Andrew Gillum in Florida came up short.
While O’Rourke and Gillum came within points of their opponents but ultimately lost, Abrams may proceed to a runoff next month with Republican Brian Kemp if neither candidate breaks 50 percent of the vote.
The three candidates captured the national imagination on the left in part because they ran in purple and red states that Trump won in 2016, and in part because of their clear vision for the Democratic party’s leftward trajectory. All three faced Republican opponents who fully embraced President Donald Trump’s agenda and rhetoric.
Gillum would have become the first black governor of the Sunshine State, while Abrams would have become the country’s first black female governor.
All three ran grassroots-powered campaigns fueled in part by the anti-Trump resistance and in part by a rejection of the Democratic establishment, with policy positions on key issues like healthcare and immigration that were to the left of the party mainstream.
O’Rourke attracted perhaps the most attention of any Democrat running this cycle, raising more money than any Senate candidate in US history and becoming a social media sensation as video clips of his town halls and road trips across the state went viral.
Despite coming up short in these key races, some Democrats say the fact that they were all competitive in the first place is a win for the party and a testament to the strength of the candidates.
“Part of the reason Abrams, O’Rourke, and Gillum got a lot of national attention is that they’re all trying to do something very hard in their respective states in a novel way. But the fundamentals are powerful!” tweeted liberal MSNBC host Chris Hayes.
Others on the left argued that the odds in all three southern states were unfairly stacked against Democrats as voters were purged from the polls in Georgia at unprecedented levels and more than 1.5 million ex-felons were prevented from voting in Florida.
“This speaks to the mountains progressives have to move to win elections in our racist semi-democracy,” Sean McElwee, a progressive activist and pollster, told Business Insider. “Run the election again in a world where you don’t have to be deputized to register people in Texas, where Brian Kemp doesn’t pick his own electorate, and where the victims of mass incarceration have a voice in our elections [and] you get a different result. We need to fight to build that world.”
But other observers saw the three key races as a sign of Democrats’ failure to convince independents and Trump supporters to vote for candidates running on platforms that included Medicare for All and abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE).
“Yes, the margins were narrow,” wrote New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof on Wednesday. “But while it’s fine to make excuses, it’s better to win elections.”