The Ghost Haunting American Politics
The 2016 Democratic congressional candidate in Georgia’s 6th District was one Rodney Stooksbury. In last year’s election, Mr. Stooksbury ran against, and lost to, Republican incumbent Tom Price.
This was not surprising, given that the Republiacn Party has a strong hold in the district. But it didn’t help that Stooksbury never once made a public appearance in relation to his campaign.
The Stooksbury campaign had no office. No one knocked on doors or dropped pamphlets on his behalf. Even if they wanted to, there were no pamphlets or other campaign materials to distribute. Rodney Stooksbury didn’t even have the bare minimum of a campaign website.
It’s almost as if he didn’t exist. In fact, that’s what some people believe.
Rodney Stooksbury is what Current Affairs reporter Nathan J. Robinson dubs a ghost candidate. Not the kind of ghost that goes “boo”, or moves furniture around while you’re sleeping. A ghost candidate is one whose campaign is so woefully under-supported by the party that he or she may as well not exist (and with Stooksbury, that may actually be the case.)
That wasn’t the first time the Democratic Party dropped the ball on Georgia’s 6th District. In the last two elections prior to 2016, the Democratic Party didn’t bother to field a candidate in at all, and Tom Price ran unopposed. The thought was that the district was so solidly Republican that any attempt to gain ground would be a waste of human and financial resources.
Better to run the race you can win than spread yourself thin across all the ones you can’t, right?
Not so, according to Robinson. He offers a compelling argument against ghost candidates:
There are a number of very good reasons why it is a mistake to just sit out elections you think you will lose. Elections represent a major opportunity to build your party, spread your message, and garner local name recognition for your candidates. That’s true even if you don’t win. You get to tell people what you stand for, and you can organize them around issues that go well beyond elections. After the race is over, if you’re good at it, you will have built a stronger network of people who can work on issues locally and who will be even better prepared to fight the next race.
He’s right. Despite Rodney Stooksbury’s non-campaign, the Democrats still received 38% of the vote in that election. That’s no small feat in a deeply red state! It was impressive enough that when the state held a special election to replace Tom Price in June, the Democrats decided to make a real go at the 6th District.
They fought hard. They spent millions. The fight between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Price’s replacement, Republican Karen Handel, was the most expensive congressional race in the history of the United States.
The Democrats still lost, but at a miniscule margin of 48 to 52.
It begs the question: what if, instead of ghost candidate Rodney Stooksbury, the party had fielded a real candidate and ran a real campaign back in 2016? What if they used the volunteer infrastructure and the momentum from that race to propel themselves ahead in this one?
What if they won?
The candidacy of Rodney Stooksbury wasn’t just a wasted opportunity. It was an embarrassment, and it’s all the more shameful in light of the party’s struggle to respond to the fractured political landscape that hit last November.