-- It was supposed to be the race that would give Democrats their groove back, a chance to claim blue turf inside red territory and signal the political perils of Trumpism in districts across the country.
But Democrats got the opposite of what they bargained for. Far from putting the Republicans on notice, Democrats' disappointing results in Georgia's 6th Congressional District are exacerbating tensions in the party as leaders sift through conflicting evidence about why they lost.
Ossoff, a 30-year-old blank slate of a candidate with scant political experience who happened not to live in the district he was seeking to represent, gladly took Hollywood and Manhattan dollars without adopting fiery anti-Trump messaging or Bernie Sanders–style progressivism and campaigned as an even-keeled moderate.
Fueled by fundraising that blew away records, the formula seemed to work in the first round of voting in April, when Ossoff garnered 48 percent of the vote — almost enough to avoid a runoff. Republican Karen Handel, fighting through a field of 18, didn't even reach 20 percent in that race.
Then something remarkable happened in the runoff: Although only two candidates were on the ballot, Ossoff's vote share didn't grow. Voters flocked to Handel, a more established political presence, despite $23 million in campaign funds raised by Ossoff and an additional $8 million poured in by outside groups on his behalf.
The vote marked a massive disconnect from the national narrative. It was yet another reminder of the difference between the storylines that dominate Washington and those that play out on the ground in swaths of the country.
The result suggests that Democrats are missing the messaging mark. But the real frustration in the party stems from the fact that it's not clear in which direction they should be aiming.
This year's special elections have been special cases and have offered conflicting data. Left-of-center candidates came closer than expected in House races in Montana and Kansas. On Tuesday the Democrat running in South Carolina with almost no national attention or money came almost as close to winning as Ossoff.
Democrats don't have a cohesive message or a road map for arriving at one. They surely haven't proved that the House will be in play in 2018 — though it may well be — and Trump and his GOP brethren now feel emboldened for their governing agenda in 2017.
Conceding defeat Tuesday night, Ossoff nodded to the national attention his race garnered, which he said was "sometimes to my chagrin." He tried to stay upbeat, casting a race that shouldn't have been close for a Democrat in the first place as a "beacon of hope" for those who are upset with the current political power structure.
"We showed the world that in places where no one thought it was even possible to fight, we could fight," he said.