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I've been speaking with Bob Honold, a Republican strategist hired by the NRCC to craft TV and digital ads for the Georgia House special election, in which the GOP's Karen Handel beat Democrat Jon Ossoff.

His key takeaways from the most expensive House race in American history:

  • "The energy on the left was considerable — and the $25 million sent to Ossoff was a product of that energy that posed a huge problem," he says. "That unprecedented amount of money put the race squarely in jeopardy."
  • "Many factors were necessary to win — including a great campaign by Karen Handel and her team...[but] without the enormous amount allotted by the NRCC [more than $7 million], and without the specific and methodical ways we spent it on TV and digital – we would not have won. The same can be said for the incredible work done by CLF (Congressional Leadership Fund)."

The ad-by-ad path to defeating Ossoff:

  1. During the jungle primary they identified him with unpopular party leader Nancy Pelosi, and portrayed him as just another liberal. (The Pelosi branding became a centerpiece of the GOP strategy throughout the race, and is part of the reason her leadership is under new jeopardy.) The Republicans also used Ossoff's own TV ad against him to highlight the fact that he did not support repealing Obamacare, and remind voters that Ossoff does not live in the district.
  2. Also during the jungle primary – Republicans used residents of the district to accuse Ossoff of lying about his credentials, and they again reinforced the branding of him as a Pelosi liberal who'd raise taxes and weaken the military.
  3. Straight after the primary, they ran a contrast ad — framing Ossoff as a carpetbagging Hollywood/Pelosi liberal and Handel as a "proven fighter for Georgia."
  4. National security played a surprisingly heavy role in the messaging given Ossoff had never taken a vote that could be used against him. Republicans used the fact that he'd supported Obama's Iran deal to brand him as "naive" and soft on terrorism.
  5. Doubling down on the "Ossoff is too risky" national security messaging because Republican internal polling showed it was damaging him. Honold believes the issue helped to disqualify Ossoff to many independents and motivated Republicans who were previously considering staying home.
  6. When early voting began, Republicans aired a get-out-the-vote ad on Fox News and History Channel and on targeted digital/mobile destinations. Republican internal polls showed some of the voters who didn't like Trump — and were considering either staying home or voting for Ossoff as a protest vote — also happened to be motivated by a disgust for what they viewed as extreme behavior by liberal protesters. Republicans ran an ad titled "Childish Radicals" that played to that disgust — and used the controversial image of Kathy Griffin holding up Trump's severed head.
  7. The closing argument: Republicans used a formula that had worked earlier in the campaign, filming voters from the district and repeating the key branding words for Ossoff — "childish," "naïve" and "inexperienced." And — of course — there was Nancy Pelosi.

Last word: "The massive investment made by the NRCC and the strategic message progression executed by Honold destroyed Ossoff," says Guy Harrison, another top Republican strategist and former NRCC executive director.

Go deeper

Updated 20 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona Republicans censure Cindy McCain and GOP governor

Combination images of Cindy McCain and Gov. Doug Ducey. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic for U.S.VETS/Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Arizona Republican Party members voted on Saturday to censure prominent GOP figures Cindy McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey and former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who've all faced clashes with former President Trump.

Why it matters: Although the resolution is symbolic, this move plus the re-election of Trump loyalist Kelli Ward as state GOP chair shows the strong hold the former president has on the party in Arizona, despite President Biden winning the state in the 2020 election.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Health: Most vulnerable Americans aren't getting enough vaccine information — Fauci says Trump administration's lack of facts on COVID "very likely" cost lives.
  2. Education: Schools face an uphill battle to reopen during the pandemic.
  3. Vaccine: Florida requiring proof of residency to get vaccine — CDC extends interval between vaccine doses for exceptional cases.
  4. World: Hong Kong puts tens of thousands on lockdown as cases surge — Pfizer to supply 40 million vaccine doses to lower-income countries — Brazil begins distributing AstraZeneca vaccine.
  5. Sports: 2021 Tokyo Olympics hang in the balance.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Carbon Health's CEO on unsticking the vaccine bottleneck.

DOJ: Capitol rioter threatened to "assassinate" Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Supporters of former President Trump storm the U.S. Captiol on Jan. 6. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A Texas man who has been charged with storming the U.S. Capitol in the deadly Jan. 6 siege posted death threats against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the Department of Justice said.

The big picture: Garret Miller faces five charges in connection to the riot by supporters of former President Trump, including violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds and making threats. According to court documents, Miller posted violent threats online the day of the siege, including tweeting “Assassinate AOC.”

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