In the year since Donald Trump became president, Democrats have had a string of successes at the ballot box ― making many Republicans nervous about a potential blue wave in November.
Over the past year, Democrats have picked up 34 state legislative seats that were previously held by Republicans. They have also won a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama and the governor’s mansion in New Jersey.
Republicans, meanwhile, have turned just four state legislative seats from blue to red.
The most recent Democratic win was in Wisconsin’s state Senate district 10. Democrat Patty Schachtner defeated her opponent there by 11 percentage points, taking a seat Republicans had held since 2001. The district was solidly red: Trump won by 17 percentage points in 2016, and Republican Mitt Romney won there in 2012. The Republican incumbent state senator won her re-election race in 2016 by 26 points.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) called the results a “wake up call” for his party, and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Republicans certainly needed to “pay attention” to the results.
One of the most high-profile contests was in Alabama, where Democrat Doug Jones won the U.S. Senate seat in a special election. Republicans were widely expected to hold on to that position when Jeff Sessions stepped down to become Trump’s attorney general, but they ended up suffering when Roy Moore ― who was eventually accused of pursuing teenage girls when he was an adult ― won the GOP nomination.
Democrats say all these wins are good news for 2018. It shows the base is excited, the party has its act together and the electorate is frustrated with Trump and the GOP.
“If 2017 was bad news for Republicans facing voters this fall, 2018 is shaping up to be worse,” said Carolyn Fiddler, the political editor for the liberal site DailyKos. “This special election is a red alert for the GOP at every level of the ballot, even those running in gerrymandered districts and drastically outspending their Democratic challengers. The reckoning is here, and no Republican is safe.”
DailyKos has a full list here of all the flipped seats, both the Democratic and Republican ones.
Democrats have been learning some lessons along the way about how to harness the enthusiasm from the base that erupted after Trump’s election.
The party thought the special election in Georgia’s 6th congressional district ― a wealthy suburban district that’s not hardcore Trump territory ― was winnable in June. The Democratic candidate, Jon Ossoff, received tons of national help and attention, which ultimately may have backfired as Republicans were able to easily tie him to the national party.
In Alabama, the Democratic Party followed a different script. To be fair, Moore was about as flawed a candidate as they could face. But Democrats also learned from the Georgia race and were much quieter about their involvement in the Senate special election, working behind the scenes.
The Republican State Leadership Committee, which is in charge of electing Republicans at the state level, said that Democrats still have a long way to go in catching up to them. Republicans currently have majorities in 67 of the 99 state legislatures. And the group’s president, Matt Walter, noted that despite the Democrats’ win in Wisconsin’s 10th state senate district, the GOP still controls the majority in the state Senate.
“Democrats want to make winning one out of four [recent] contested special elections … sound like a tidal wave, when it was just a ripple,” said Walter. “What the Democrats fail to mention is that the win in Wisconsin Assembly District 58 … keeps the majority in that chamber at a historic high, as well as maintains the historic highs around the nation for the GOP, with Republicans flipping nearly 1000 seats in the past decade.”
Two of the races that flipped from blue to red, the RSLC noted, were in the Democratic states of Massachusetts and New Jersey ― in districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. (Although on the flip side, Democrats also won in plenty of districts that Trump won too.)
One of the next big contests at the federal level is in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district. Trump went there on Thursday to help stave off another embarrassing defeat in the special election, which is being held in March. Trump won the district comfortably, and it was previously held by a Republican, but it’s another race where both parties sense there could be a change.
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