Democrats picked up their first state legislature seat in 2018 on Tuesday, as the party’s candidate won a special election for a state Senate seat in Wisconsin’s 10th District.
Though Donald Trump had won the rural district by about 17 points in the 2016 presidential election, Democratic nominee Patty Schachtner defeated her Republican opponent for the open seat by a comfortable margin of about 10 points.
The news is setting off alarm bells for Republicans, who are increasingly worried about a Democratic wave in the 2018 midterms.
The good folks at Daily Kos Elections have a spreadsheet for which they painstakingly compiled all the state legislature, congressional, or US Senate special election results in which a Democratic nominee and a Republican nominee ran against each other, and compared them to past years’ presidential results. And a look at the data on their spreadsheet tells us the following:
In the 74 special elections for both state legislatures and Congress across the country since Trump won that they tracked, Democrats performed, on average, 11 points better than they did in those areas in the 2016 presidential election.
While the average movement was in Democrats’ favor, there was a fair amount of variation. In 49 of those races, the Democratic candidate’s margin was better than Hillary Clinton’s in 2016. In 23 races, the Republican candidate did better than Trump. In the other two, it was about a tie.
Democrats aren’t just running up the score in already-blue areas. The party made many of its biggest improvements over the 2016 presidential in districts Trump won in the South and Midwest. This goes to show that the 2016 elections don’t at all seem to have heralded doom for Democrats in regions that tipped to Trump — in fact, it’s many Republican-held seats in those regions that suddenly seem to be flipping to Democrats for the first time in years.
Overall, 14 of those elections have resulted in a seat flipping from Republican to Democrat, compared to just a single one that flipped from Democrat to Republican (a state Senate seat in Massachusetts). The seats flipping to Democrats famously include the Alabama US Senate seat now occupied by Doug Jones, but also eight state house seats and 5 state Senate seats.
Of course, none of this even counts the regularly scheduled statewide elections in Virginia and New Jersey last November. In those, Democrats picked up on net 15 Virginia state house seats, 2 New Jersey state house seats, and one New Jersey state Senate seat, as well as the New Jersey governorship. This suggests the Democratic swing isn’t just a flukey dynamic of low-turnout special elections.
On the other hand, I have interviewed four rural white men who have voted for every Republican candidate for decades, and they still really like Donald Trump.
I think it’s pretty clear that
the structural conditions in 2018 will be highly favorable to the Democratic Party the Democrats have finally started to apply my unbeatable formula of 1)better messaging 2)better slogans and 3)running candidates whose views are identical to mine in every jurisdiction.