It would be easy to look at what the Democrats tried to do in the Deep South and forget about the incredible degree of difficulty. In Florida, Andrew Gillum aimed to become the state’s first Democratic governor in 20 years, and the first black governor in the state’s history. In Georgia, Stacey Abrams attempted to break the GOP’s monopolistic hold on power, and sought to become her state’s first black governor and the country’s first black woman governor. In Texas, Beto O’Rourke vied to unseat a sitting senator, Ted Cruz, who’d once been a strong GOP presidential candidate, and to become his state’s first Democratic senator since 1993. In 2017, Gillum was considered a “rising star,” though he was still mostly unknown; The Washington Post’s Ben Terris suggested Texans might be suffering from “mass delusions” when O’Rourke considered the idea of running; and Abrams was, at best, a long shot.
None of these three candidates won Tuesday night, though Abrams is still fighting against her opponent Brian Kemp, pledging to wait until every vote is counted, as she holds out hope for a recount and a runoff. Barring a miracle for Abrams, Democrats will lose all three elections.
But the losses aren’t necessarily evidence of a failed strategy. A deeper look at the results from Tuesday shows that the presence of three rock-star candidates with progressive bona fides had real effects beyond their Election Night outcome, and that the payoff came not at the top of the ballot but at the bottom.