Democrats remain shaken by the loss of last week's special House election in Georgia but are taking solace from voter data there that yields hopeful omens for them in next year's congressional elections.
Republicans retained a congressional seat they have held since 1979 in a suburban Atlanta district that's populated by many of the kind of well-educated voters who tend to disapprove of the President Donald Trump.
Some disappointed Democrats have argued that they failed because their candidate wasn't tough enough on Trump, and didn't take strongly progressive positions that would energize their most loyal voters.
That theory doesn't hold up to an analysis of voter-turnout data by John Anzalone, the pollster for the Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff.
Anzalone's breakdown shows that Democrats turned out to vote in impressive numbers. There were 125,000 votes for Ossoff, more than Democratic congressional candidates had gotten in the district before and more than Barack Obama received in the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012.
"We did excite the Democratic base," Anzalone said. "Trump was the accelerant that brought out Democrats who would not normally vote in a midterm or special election."
The problem for the Democrats was that there was a larger-than-expected Republican turnout too, enabling the GOP candidate, Karen Handel, to win by 10,000 votes. Some Democrats had hoped that Trump's unpopularity would dampen turnout for the Republican House candidate; it didn't happen.
"The myth is that the media and political insiders in D.C. viewed Trump's terrible job approval nationwide and projected that to the district," Anzalone said. Ossoff didn't stress the Trump factor, he added, and "swing voters in the district weren't interested in making Trump the entire narrative of the campaign."
Democrats learned in Georgia, and also recently in Kansas and South Carolina, that it's going to be hard for them to win in districts where Republicans have been solid, despite any Trump undertow. That would take some 2018 contests off the board for Democrats.
They also learned that the national-security card still resonates for Republicans; supporters of Handel hammered Ossoff in the closing weeks of the campaign for inflating his national-security resume and for working with the Qatari-based media network Al Jazeera. (Democratic polls also showed that Trump's favorable poll ratings in the district rose only once, when he ordered the bombing of Syria in April.)
Republicans spent millions linking Ossoff to House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, filming television commercials in her hometown of San Francisco. That tactic is likely to be repeated in other congressional districts next year.
Yet Democrats note that in every special House race and statewide contest this year, they have significantly outperformed their showing in recent elections even in defeat. This makes them think they have a chance to gain the two-dozen seats they'd need in 2018 to take back control of the House.
They claim that they expect to contend seriously for more than 70 Republican-held seats in districts where Democrats have done better in recent years than they'd previously done in the Georgia district that was up for grabs last week.
Says Anzalone, "This isn't bad news for 2018."