A voter steps into a voting booth to mark his ballot at a polling site for the New Hampshire primary, Feb. 9, 2016, in Nashua, N.H.
Photo by David Goldman/AP

State special elections continue to go Democrats’ way in 2017

In recent years, Republican have started to dominate in state legislatures nationwide, but so far this year, that GOP advantage has started to shrink, at least a little bit, as a result of some Democratic victories in special elections. The Week reported overnight:

In special elections on Tuesday, Democrats in Oklahoma and New Hampshire won state legislative seats vacated by Republicans in districts President Trump won by double digits.

In New Hampshire, Democratic small-business owner Charles St. Clair beat Republican Steve Whalley, 55 percent to 45 percent, for a state House seat that Trump won by 19 points last November. Democrats last held the seat in 2012, and Republicans had a 12-point party registration advantage. In Oklahoma, meanwhile, Democratic school teacher Jacob Rosecrants beat Republican Darin Chambers, 60 percent to 40 percent, in state House District 46, a district Trump won by 11 points and where Republicans have nearly 3,000 more registered voters.

According to a tally from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which focuses on Democratic state legislative races, the party has now flipped six seats this year from “red” to “blue” – three in Oklahoma, two in New Hampshire, and one in New York – on top of a series of other victories.

How many seats have Republicans flipped in 2017 from “blue” to “red”? Just one, in Louisiana, in a district where Democrats failed to run a candidate.

Given the setbacks Dems faced in 2016, the party has reason to be encouraged by results like these.

I know what some conservative readers are thinking right about now. “But wait,” they’re saying, “look at all the congressional special elections Republicans won! That negates the thesis entirely!”

I’m inclined to disagree. There have been five congressional special elections this year, and Republicans have won four of them (Donald Trump has repeatedly said the GOP went “five for five,” but that’s demonstrably wrong.) And while losing is worse than winning for a party, I continue to take a different lesson from those four races: in each of these contests, Democrats ran first-time candidates in ruby-red districts, and in every instance, these Dems exceeded expectations and forced Republicans to scramble to secure narrow victories.

Those are results that should bring the GOP anxiety, not comfort.

It’s still very early, and a lot can (and will) happen between now and next year’s midterms, but all things considered, Democrats have reason to feel some optimism from the results from this year’s special elections.