Democrats Continue Special Election Streak In Pennsylvania, New Hampshire

The wins will help the party control key legislative chambers and provide a good omen for 2024.
In New Hampshire, Democrat Hal Rafter won a closely divided seat on Tuesday night.
In New Hampshire, Democrat Hal Rafter won a closely divided seat on Tuesday night.
Michael M. Santiago via Getty Images

Democratic candidates easily won special state legislative elections in both Pennsylvania and New Hampshire on Tuesday night, continuing the party’s streak of strong performances in special contests, providing a good omen for 2024 and giving Democrats a better chance of holding two swing state legislative chambers.

In Pennsylvania, former congressional aide Lindsay Powell won in a safe blue seat in Pittsburgh, meaning the party will maintain its 102-101 edge in the state’s House of Representatives. Republicans control the state senate in the Keystone State, while the governor is Democrat Josh Shapiro.

In New Hampshire, whose 400-member state house is the largest in the nation, Democrat Hal Rafter won a previously Republican-held seat northeast of Manchester, narrowing the Republican edge in the state house to just 198 Republicans to 197 Democrats. Democrats are heavily favored in a special election scheduled for November, meaning the party could soon split control of the chamber and break the GOP trifecta controlling state government.

Neither victory, by itself, can indicate much about the political environment. Only about 10,000 voters cast ballots in Pennsylvania, and just 2,800 did in New Hampshire. But both continue a trend of Democrats overperforming both President Joe Biden’s 2020 results and the results of the 2022 midterms in special elections so far this year. The trend began after the Dobbs decision striking down abortion rights, and has only accelerated since the midterms.

For instance, former President Donald Trump narrowly won the New Hampshire district in 2020. But Rafter beat the GOP nominee, Jim Guzofski, by a 56% to 44% margin.

And in Pennsylvania, Biden won the seat by 22 percentage points — already a blowout. But Powell defeated Republican Erin Autenreith by 30 percentage points.

“Following a historic midterm in which the DLCC picked up four new legislative majorities, we’ve seen our momentum continue in 2023 with special election wins and overperformance across the country,” said Heather Williams, the interim president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, a national group backing state legislative candidates.

“As voters reject the GOP’s extreme agenda on abortion, voting rights, and so much more, these victories are shifting the balance of power in key states and putting Democrats in a stronger position to move this country forward.”

According to the latest calculations from FiveThirtyEight, Democrats have improved upon the base partisanship of districts by a whopping 11 percentage points over the course of 30 state legislative special elections this year. The districts where Democrats have overperformed include a wide variety of political territory, from a majority-Black seat in Louisiana to Republican-leaning seats in rural Maine and Wisconsin.

While Biden’s approval rating remains low, and most polls have the race between him and Trump in close to a dead heat, special election results stand out as a bright spot for Democrats heading into 2024.

How bright of a spot remains to be determined: The correlation between special election results and general election results is not perfect, and the continued movement of college-educated voters — who are more likely to turn out in irregularly scheduled elections — into the Democratic camp is clearly helping Democrats run up their advantages.

CORRECTION: A prior version of this story misstated the number of members in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

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