The Corner

Hispanic Republican Woman Elected to Wisconsin Legislature Special Elections Show Surprising GOP Strength

Just after last month’s government shutdown ended, pundits were proclaiming the death of the Republican party. But the evidence so far for that demise is scant, and sometimes points to quite the opposite. 

Indeed, four special elections for seats in state legislatures yesterday showed the GOP elephant stomping Democrats in most places. In Wisconsin, Republicans held a rural assembly seat in central Wisconsin with 67 percent of the vote as expected but also held a highly competitive seat in south Milwaukee County that Barack Obama carried in 2008 and only narrowly lost last year. Republican Jessie Rodriguez, who won 56 percent of the vote yesterday, will become the first female Hispanic Republican to serve in the assembly. She was born in El Salvador but moved to the U.S. in the 1980s to avoid that country’s civil war. She is currently an outreach coordinator for Hispanics for School Choice — a nonprofit organization that helps low-income parents find schools for their children.

In Iowa, Republican Julian Garrett kept a vacant state senate seat south of Des Moines in the GOP column by crushing Democrat by Mark Davitt by 60 percent to 40 percent. The district only narrowly voted for Mitt Romney last year.

But the biggest surprise yesterday may have been in California, a place where the Republican party has been on life support. But not last night. With provisional and absentee ballots still to be counted, former Democratic congressional staffer Matt Dababneh had only a 173-vote lead over Republican Susan Shelley in a special election for a San Fernando Valley assembly seat near Los Angeles. The district is overwhelmingly Democratic. Barack Obama won it in 2012 with 64 percent of the vote and Republicans make up only a quarter of the registered voters. 

The result is so close and so many ballots are still out that the official winner may not be known for two weeks. “It’s so close that it’s certainly within the number of absentee and provisional ballots. I don’t know how many are uncounted, but there’s a substantial number,” Shelley, a writer and producer for the TV show Jeopardy, told reporters.

Win or lose, her showing is especially impressive given that she was out-spent ten to one and that almost every local elected official endorsed her opponent. “Many people have written off this area as completely un-winnable for Republican candidates, and I think I demonstrated tonight that is wrong,” she said. 

As I indicated above, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of the Republican party appear to be greatly exaggerated. 

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