Special Elections: Definitely Need to Pay Attention

in Opinion by

Two weeks ago, in the Kansas 4th Congressional District, a Democrat came within seven points of winning. This week, Democrat Jon Ossoff narrowly avoided winning outright in the jungle primary for the 6th Congressional District in Georgia, getting 48.1% of the vote. I’m sure you’re wondering what the point is. That’s an excellent question, and with President Trump in office, one that deserves our attention.

The president’s party almost always loses seats in the midterm elections. That’s one of the closest things to an iron law we have in American politics. In the last 95 years, there have only been two midterm elections where the president’s party has gained seats: 2002 and 1926. Not even FDR or Reagan were immune to this. The reason why I singled out those two elections, outside from the fact that they are the first ones this year, is the degree of competitiveness in ruby-red Republican Country.

President Trump crushed Secretary Clinton by 29 points in the general election in the Kansas 4th. Despite the fact that Trump narrowly defeated Clinton by just over a point in the Georgia 6th, former Governor Romney defeated President Obama by 23 points in 2012 and is the seat formerly held by Speaker Newt Gingrich. While this is fantastic news for the Democrats and some are claiming a moral victory, they didn’t win in Kansas and the Georgia special election now advances to a runoff. There are many other special elections coming up in Montana, California, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Alabama.

Several times in the past, similarly close races have served as a warning of a huge wave election, where dozens of seats change party and the ruling party in the House is dealt a large defeat. With more Democrats than Republicans up for re-election in the Senate, however, it would take a perfect race and heavily aided by the Republicans screwing up for the Democrats to take both chambers of the legislature. That being said, it is not impossible. Highly improbable, but not impossible.

Bernie Sanders and DNC Chair Tom Perez are trying to build a 50-state Party and strategy, where liberals, progressives, and activists re-create the Party in their image, rather than those with the institutional power. To the outside world, this will be a united front, but to those of us who are political junkies, the proxy war between the “Clintonites” and the “Sanderistas” will continue and will shape the Party for the next presidential election. Needless to say, it will be fascinating to watch.

California’s 34th will remain Democrat; the candidates that advanced in the jungle primary are both Democrats.  Montana’s At-Large is shaping up to be exciting, with a popular folk singer in Montana representing the Democrats and spurring more than a dozen Democratic County parties. South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District, Pennsylvania’s 10th District, and the Alabama Senate race will be a lot closer than what many may think. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Democrats pick up two or three seats and make a play for Attorney General Sessions’ Senate seat.

If the Democrats can do that, they stand a good chance to make a play for the House majority in 2018. Polarization and the rise of party purity the last forty years has made this a much more difficult prospect, but this isn’t exactly a normal president, nor are these normal times. Get informed, get involved, and get watching.