Dems Should Be Confident But Not Overconfident

Tomorrow there will be a special election to fill the sole U.S. House seat from Montana, and it’s closer than most people anticipated with a Democratic win not out of the question. Meanwhile, Roll Call has changed its rating on 19 separate House races, all in the Democrats’ direction. And, last night, the Democrats unexpectedly won two state legislative special elections in deep red districts that Trump carried in November by large margins.

The seat in New Hampshire was a major upset, but the seat on Long Island was an earthquake:

In New Hampshire, Democrat Edie DesMarais defeated Republican Matthew Plache by a 52-48 margin in the state House’s 6th Carroll District, a seat Donald Trump won 51-44 last fall. Meanwhile, in the New York Assembly’s 9th District, Democrat Christine Pellegrino beat Republican Thomas Gargiulo 58-42, even though Trump romped to a 60-37 victory there in November.

This means that DesMarais moved the needle 11 points in the Democratic direction while Pellegrino did the same by an astounding 39 points. And while these are the first two seats to actually change hands since Trump’s election, Democrats have consistently outperformed the 2016 presidential results in special elections across the country.

Pellegrino actually referred to her victory as “a thunderbolt of resistance.” She’s an interesting story because she didn’t win by running to the middle. She was actually a Sanders delegate at the Democratic National Convention, and her campaign was heavily supported by New York’s progressive Working Families Party. She may have found sound common cause with a segment of conservatives by being a high-profile member of that anti-Common Core “Opt Out” movement. Her opponent never saw his defeat coming, “We worked hard. I don’t know what happened,” he said.

It’s only one poll, but SurveyUSA now shows Jon Ossoff leading by seven points in his bid to win the special election in Newt Gingrich and Tom Price’s old 6th district in Georgia.

Without counting any chickens before they hatch, this is all good news for the Democrats. But it should be noted that it’s natural for their partisans to be more energized when they’re completely shut out of power. This can work to the left’s favor in our current environment and in low turnout special elections, but that doesn’t mean they’ve found some magic formula to change the nature and shape of the general electorate.

I’m seriously not trying to be a wet blanket because I’m ecstatic about all this positive news. I just want to keep things in perspective. Winning these seats will be nice but not worth much if they are given right back when there are better turnout elections. If there are messages that are resonating, that information needs to be shared broadly, but people shouldn’t assume victories now will translate to victories when they really matter, which is going to be in the November after next.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.