Remember back before the special election in Georgia's 6th Congressional District when the battle between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel was actually a referendum on the early performance of President Trump?
But then, when Handel won by more than double the margin by which Trump carried the district last November, how the media conceded Trump support actually might be increasing in what is now a swing district in suburban Atlanta?
Of course, that second part never happened. Instead, the focus has been on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and whether she has become such a drag on Democratic Party candidates that they can't win.
Ossoff ran to "stop Trump." Handel ran against Pelosi. Ossoff got 48 percent in the primary to 19 for Handel. But more than $50 million later – the most ever spent on a House special election – Handel got nearly 52 percent, and Ossoff barely 48.
Democrats' spin is that they made a real race out of a district that Republican Tom Price, now secretary of health and human services, carried by 23 points. But this no longer is a ruby red district, and it's one of just 15 in the country where more than half the adults have a college degree – a demographic thought not to be in the president's favor.
Trump carried the district by just 1.5 percent. But Handel won by nearly four.
Moreover, it was the fourth time in four tries Republicans had held on to seats vacated by members who had been appointed to positions in the Trump administration. The other three – in Kansas, Montana and South Carolina – were on turf the Democrats could brand as hostile. But Georgia-6 was a real chance to steal one and to do so by painting the president as increasingly unpopular among the suburban voters who had helped lift him to the presidency.
The Democrats didn't have a perfect candidate – Ossoff had no experience, did not actually live in the district and received more than 90 percent of his campaign contributions from outside it. But they went all in on attacking the president, spent all the money they could lay their hands on and still lost.
Handel, meanwhile, made the case a vote for Ossoff was a vote for Pelosi and her coastal elite San Francisco values – open borders, excessive taxes, gun control, preserving Obamacare at all costs.
With Hillary Clinton off the stage, trashing Pelosi has become Job One for any Republican seeking office. And Democrats are starting to notice.
Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., said he was "frustrated" with the losing streak. Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., said the entire Democratic leadership team should go. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who tried to unseat Pelosi as minority leader when the current Congress organized, said the Democratic brand had become "toxic" because of the party "not being able to connect with the issues [people] care about."
As Politico Playbook put it, "Let's be clear: something isn't working for Democrats, party insiders privately tell us."
Talk of replacing Pelosi as minority leader has grown serious enough that she responded by reminding lawmakers of her fundraising prowess and that she is a "master legislator." But it's been a long time since she's done any legislating, and the $30 million she helped raise for Ossoff, far more than Handel had, did no good.
Democratic members of Congress say their "brand is worse than Trump," and 58 percent of Democrats' rank and file think the party needs new leadership. Tim Ryan is said to be organizing another attempt to oust Pelosi.
Not everyone agrees – liberal writer Jonathan Chait says the reaction to Ossoff's loss "might be the worst Democratic freak-out ever."
Although Chait acknowledged the "psychological dagger" of the four losses, he said all the candidates over-performed, relative to the strength of the party in those districts, by between 7 and 12 percent. If this momentum could be carried over into the fall of 2018, it could give the Democrats control of the House.
On the right, it's hard not to enjoy the ongoing battle within the Democratic Party, with members of Congress and others begging for new leaders and new approaches and the entrenched working to maintain the status quo.
And we can't help but think our best hope is that Democrats follow Chait's advice and keep Pelosi in charge.
Given the history of midterms, Democrats are likely to pick up a few seats and have an outside chance at flipping the House. But the nation has made its decision on Pelosi. She embodies California values. Everywhere those values don't hold sway, her party is going to be in real trouble.
Ford O'Connell (@Ford Connell) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is an adjunct professor at The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management, worked on John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, and authored the book "Hail Mary: The 10-Step Playbook for Republican Recovery."
XYZ is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. [BIO] If you would like to write an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, please read our guidelines on submissions here.