In the days after Donald Trump was inaugurated in January, liberals in America were depressed, despondent and asking themselves what to do next. David Nir, the political director of the liberal blog Daily Kos, had an answer, and that answer was Jon Ossoff.
Nir and the Daily Kos team had been crunching the numbers from Trump’s election since the day after it happened. Which districts did Trump underperform in? Where were the opportunities for Democrats? They quickly noticed that in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, which Mitt Romney won by 23 points in 2012, Trump had won by just a point and a half. Could Rep. Tom Price be vulnerable the next time around?
Within weeks, the Price seat was not just a target for 2018, it became the prize in a 2017 special election, after Trump tapped Price as his secretary of Health and Human Services to oversee the dismantling of Obamacare. In the minds of progressives, the Price seat was not just open, it was ground zero for the Trump resistance.
“No one wants to wait until 2018 - or 2020 - to fight back against Donald Trump,” Nir wrote in a post on Daily Kos at the end of January. “The good news is, we don’t have to.”
Nir then went on to introduce the site’s 3 million readers to Ossoff, a then-29-year-old former congressional staffer who had jumped into the special election in early January.
Even though there were three other Democrats in the race, Nir announced that Daily Kos would break with their usual policy and endorse Ossoff, who had already been endorsed by Georgia Rep. John Lewis. Crucially, Nir also provided a link to an ActBlue page where Daily Kos readers across the country could send donations to the unknown candidate in suburban Atlanta. This was their way to fight against Trump.
“Flipping this seat from red to blue would send shockwaves through Congress,” the ActBlue message read. “Replacing Trump’s anti-Obamacare point man with a Democrat would be an amazing little cherry on top.”
With that single post from Nir, the special election in Georgia’s 6th District transformed from a typically hushed conversation among Republicans about who should get “Newt’s old seat,” into a national campaign by progressive Democrats to put a bull’s-eye on Price’s home turf.
The fundraising haul from the Daily Kos endorsement was immediate. Ossoff raised more than $800,000 in a week from the ActBlue link - more than many congressional candidates raise in an entire cycle. Daily Kos readers, still sick over Trump’s election, began to hold “roots raisers,” local fundraisers across the country, for a candidate they had never heard of before the site endorsed him.
Within five weeks, Ossoff had raised $1.85 million and had 5,000 volunteer sign-ups. The national media, along with other outside progressive groups, began to pay attention to the race to replace Price in earnest. End Citizens United endorsed Ossoff in February. Two days later, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced it would send nine staffers to the district and would transfer money to the Georgia Democratic Party for get-out-the-vote efforts.
Based on the response from readers, Nir continued to weigh in on the Ossoff race and further nationalize it, especially when Trump made viral-friendly headlines. On the day Trump fired former national security adviser Michael Flynn in February, Nir wrote about Flynn and connected any future congressional investigation to the future of the 6th District race.
“Do you want to see Flynn investigated? Then we need to win back the House,” he wrote. “Want to win back the House? Help Jon Ossoff.”On the morning after Trump gave his first speech to a joint session of Congress, Nir connected electing Ossoff to stopping Trump. “Were you sickened by Trump’s grotesque congressional address? Here’s something you can do NOW.”
While the Democratic National Committee sat on the sidelines dealing with its own internal drama, the Daily Kos had turned the Ossoff race into a national therapy session for liberals who just wanted to do something. It turns out, they wanted to do a lot, and still do. As of Election Day, Ossoff had raised more than $8.3 million, with $1,467,473.21 of that coming through the Daily Kos efforts alone. With 115,113 individual donations, that averages out to about $12.75 each.
A perfect Democratic storm? In many ways, the Ossoff race is a unicorn for Democrats - an exotic species they won’t see again soon. The 12-week special election attracted far more qualified GOP candidates than the district could reasonably absorb. Had 11 Republicans not chosen to run, it’s unlikely Ossoff would have rocketed to the top of the early polls ahead of every Republican as he did.
The 2017 timeframe also meant that Ossoff had the attention of the entire national grass-roots ecosystem focused on him alone. Would he have popped so quickly with 434 other House races and 33 Senate races all happening at the same time? Probably not.
Nir tells me the Daily Kos community will “absolutely” stay engaged with him and his campaign now that he’s qualified for a runoff in June. Daily Kos will also begin to identify other states and districts that could give them similar opportunities to flip Republican seats. Several GOP-held seats outside of Dallas and Houston top that list.
The one thing we can take away from the 6th District special election is that Daily Kos put Ossoff on the map for national Democrats looking for a way to fight back against Donald Trump.
And after fading into the background of progressive politics for the last few cycles, Daily Kos has made itself an undeniable force in the resistance to Trump’s America.
Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast.