Democrats Flip Another Statehouse Seat

Democrats Flip Another Statehouse Seat
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Last night, Democrats successfully flipped another state legislature seat, this time in Wisconsin. This was a pretty stunning upset, and one that bodes well for Democratic chances this November in the congressional midterm elections. Their continuing string of victories in special elections just adds fuel to the speculation that this year will see a rather large Democratic "wave election" cycle. There are, of course, no guarantees, but so far things continue to look very good for Democratic candidates.

In Wisconsin, chief medical examiner for St. Croix County Patty Schachtner easily beat state representative Adam Jarchow by 11 points in the preliminary results, winning by a margin of 55 to 44 percent of the special election vote to fill a state senate seat in a rural district of the state.

As in other special elections across the country over the past year, the Democrat outperformed historical voting trends in the district to an astonishing degree. In 2016, the Republican candidate won with 63 percent of the vote. Donald Trump did almost as well, garnering 59 percent of the vote to win by 17 points. Mitt Romney won the district in 2012, and John McCain came close to winning it in 2008 even while the rest of the state went for Barack Obama.

Comparing Tuesday's special election result with Trump's victory shows a whopping 28-point swing in party preference. Of course, to more accurately understand this number requires halving it, since margins of victories really count the same voters twice. If a district votes 52-48 for a Republican in one election (a 4-point margin) and then 44-56 for the Democrat in the next (a 12-point margin in the other direction), it is more accurate to say "8 percent of voters changed from voting Republican to voting for the Democrat" rather than to say "it was a 16-point swing." But even after splitting this particular hair, Democrats outperformed their previous showing in Wisconsin by flipping 14 percent of the vote. That is incredibly impressive, especially given the rural nature of the district.

This is entirely in sync with national generic polling, where the question is asked: "If the midterm elections were held tomorrow, would you vote for a Democrat or a Republican?" Democrats have been holding on to a double-digit lead in such polling for months now. What this means is that Republicans (especially in the House) who won their district by fewer than 10 points should be very worried about their chances in November. And there are a lot of these districts -- enough to hand control of the House back to the Democrats.

Even with such a rosy outlook, the Democratic Party still has a long way to go in the statehouses across the country. During Barack Obama's time in office, Democrats lost (depending on which stats you credit) anywhere from 900 to 1,000 such statehouse seats to Republicans. So far, with all the elections held over the past year, Democrats have picked up an impressive 34 seats. However, this means they still have either 866 or 966 such victories to go to return to where they were in 2008. So there's a lot of work still to be done, obviously, when you put things in perspective.

State legislative races seldom get much attention, of course. Even special elections held when nothing much else is going on don't get much media coverage outside of the affected district or state. But this year, pundits are looking to read whatever tea leaves are available in order to prognosticate what could happen in the midterms.

The next such election that will command a lot of media attention will be a special election in Pennsylvania's 18th House district. The district in question, in the southwestern part of the state, is pretty solid Trump country. But then so was the district in Wisconsin. Trump won PA-18 by 19 points in 2016. That's comparable to his 17 point margin in Wisconsin. Normally, a president wouldn't care much about one House special election, especially in a district with such a heavy lean towards his own party. But Trump is planning another full-court press for the campaign (the election will be held in mid-March). No word yet on whether Trump will personally campaign in the district, but the White House is already planning for Mike Pence to visit twice, as well as "half a dozen cabinet secretaries." So they're obviously invested in the outcome.

To be scrupulously fair, so far the Trump team has eked out victories in many of these House special elections, denying Democrats the opportunity to flip House districts after the president appoints whoever represents them to an executive position. But this is a feature of the presidential appointment process, as the relative safety of the district is a key factor when making decisions about who to appoint. In several House special elections, Democrats have come very close to flipping Republican seats -- outperforming their previous history in the district by wide margins. But they've mostly fallen short in the end. The White House is obviously hoping this will also be the case in Pennsylvania.

But even if Republicans do prevail in the special election, smart observers will be watching the margins very closely. Because if a Republican only manages to win the district by a few points after Trump won it by 19, it could also be an indicator of which House Republicans could be in serious jeopardy in November. If Democrats can outperform their previous totals by double digits even in extremely red districts then all those districts with much closer GOP margins of victory have to be seen as up for grabs.

Again, there are no guarantees. There aren't really even enough data points to draw firm statistical conclusions. But even with those caveats, all the signs so far are pointing to a big blue wave coming in November. One year from now, the Democratic resistance to Trump could move forward under the leadership of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, to put this another way. And hopefully Democrats will also be racking up a whole lot of state legislative districts, reversing their downward trend in the Obama era. Republicans are getting more worried about the prospects of a wave election drowning their chances, and they have every right to be. After all, if a Democrat can win by 11 points in a rural district that Trump carried by 17, then it's pretty easy to see which way the wind is blowing.

Chris Weigant blogs at:

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Popular in the Community


What's Hot