The Pattern in the Early Special Elections of 2017

by Jim Geraghty

From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt…

You’re So Very Special, I Wish I Was Special

Earlier this month, I noted the five special U.S. House elections scheduled for this year will be a good test of whether there really is an energized liberal grassroots movement mobilizing that could be the equivalent of the Tea Party on the Left, or whether we’re just seeing the same familiar activists in the same familiar places.

There have already been a handful special state legislative elections this year, and there’s been a pattern.

In January in Virginia, Republican Mark Peake won the special election in the 22nd Senate District around Lynchberg, a district that usually votes Republican.  The same night, Democrat Jennifer L. McClellan won in the 9th Senate District, which includes part of Richmond. This is a heavily-Democratic district; most years the Republicans don’t even field a candidate, and they didn’t field one in the special election. In Virginia’s 85th House District, which covers Virginia Beach, N.D. “Rocky” Holcomb III beat Cheryl Turpin, keeping the seat Republican and winning by about the same margin that his predecessor Scott Taylor won in 2013.

In other words, in three low-turnout special elections in Virginia so far this year, the political environment is pretty close to normal.

In Iowa, Democrat Monica Kurth won the special election in the 89th State House District with 72 percent. The previous incumbent, Jim Lykam, ran unopposed in 2016 and 2014 and won 67 percent in 2012.

In Minnesota, Republican Anne Neu won 53 percent in the House District 32B race, about what her GOP predecessor Bob Barrett had won.

Again, these results are pretty much “normal.” A writer at Daily Kos touts the fact that that these Democrat special election candidates ran ahead of Hillary Clinton’s margin these districts, but I’m not so sure that’s the right measuring stick. These state legislative candidates may be better on the campaign trail than Clinton – in fact, they probably are! – but they’re not generating significantly different results.

In Delaware, control over the state Senate will come down to one special election being held this Saturday. If the Democrats lose this race, Republicans would control the chamber for the first time in 44 years, and so they’re making extraordinary efforts for a special election.

The fight between Democrat Stephanie Hansen and Republican John Marino has been among the fiercest fought local elections in Delaware history. The election will decide not only who represents Middletown, Glasgow and southern Newark, but also whether the Democrats’ 44-year-old Senate majority comes to an end.

Democrats are poised to spend a record-shattering $1 million. Between Jan. 27 and Feb. 17, Hansen’s campaign raised $306,472 from hundreds of donors, both from inside Delaware and all over the country.

Political advisers say it usually costs about $50,000 to win a state Senate race or $100,000 for one that is particularly fierce.

In Delaware’s 10th State Senate District, the previous incumbent, Democrat Bethany Hall-Long, ran unopposed in 2012 and had a close race in 2014. Considering their institutional and financial advantages, Democrats should win this special election. If they don’t, it’s a sign that the much-touted grassroots anger at Donald Trump isn’t translating into votes when and where the party needs them. 

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