But grass-roots liberals are not about to let party leaders lapse back into traditional red state, blue state assumptions. Instead, the Democratsâ enthusiastic base is demanding to compete on terrain that once seemed forbidding, a formula for disputes now and in 2018 about where to put the partyâs money and field operations.
âThe party clearly has no clue how to build and nurture a movement,â said Markos Moulitsas, the founder of the liberal website Daily Kos, which has taken the lead in raising money for Democratic candidates first in Georgia, then Kansas and now Montana. ââWeâre going to lose, so stay outâ is not a winning message, ever, and it certainly doesnât work in these times, when we have a national resistance energized and looking for ways to engage.â
Mr. Ossoffâs taking 48.1 percent of the vote on Tuesday in the reliably Republican district in Georgia vacated by Tom Price, the health and human services secretary, means a long, expensive campaign to the runoff. Republicans are already rolling in the negative advertising to stop Mr. Ossoffâs improbable rise.
And President Trump continues to prove that he cannot keep himself away from Georgiaâs Sixth District campaign.
But to liberal activists, those moves are only a call to arms. Hillary Clinton and the Democrats waged a campaign that was overly cautious and insufficiently populist, they say, resulting in the election of perhaps the most detested candidate in the leftâs modern history. Now the left wants to go for broke.
The internecine dispute over where to play could last well beyond this season of special elections and into the 2018 midterm elections. At issue is whether the campaign arm of the House Democrats and the Democratic National Committee should dedicate money and staff to campaigns that may appear to be a reach but that could still galvanize small-dollar donors and activists hungry to compete.
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont says they should, expressing regret that the party did not help its nominee in Kansas and vowing to campaign for Mr. Quist. Senior union officials have also urged party leaders to lean in to this series of special elections, which will continue in South Carolina in June and potentially in Pennsylvania should Representative Tom Marino become drug czar, according to Democratic sources briefed on the conversations who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Democratic officials make no apology for their decision to stay away from the Kansas race, where their nominee lost by less than seven percentage points in a Wichita-based district that Mr. Trump carried by 27 points in November. They say their money has been…