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Democrats rack up another pair of special-election victories

In the Trump era, the Republican advantage in state legislatures is shrinking in ways neither party expected.
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)
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.

Going into this week, Democratic candidates had already out-performed Hillary Clinton "in 27 out of 35 congressional and state-legislative special elections" held so far this year. Yesterday, as Politico  noted, the Dems' hot streak continued.

In a special Florida Senate election where President Donald Trump was a drag, a Republican state House member who was once a contestant on "The Apprentice" lost to Democrat Annette Taddeo, bolstering the minority party's hopes that it can win close elections after an embarrassing November loss statewide.Though Taddeo's victory over state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in the Miami-area swing district won't change control of the state Senate -- where the GOP holds 24 of 40 seats -- it gives the once-dispirited party a badly needed lift heading into the 2018 elections.

If Taddeo's name sounds familiar, it may have something to do with the fact that she was one of the victims of Russia's attack last year on the DCCC.

Also last night, a Democratic state House candidate in New Hampshire narrowly won a race in a district where Republicans enjoy a two-to-one registration advantage. It's also a district where Donald Trump won easily last year.

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

To be sure, the Republican advantage in state legislatures is still considerable, but so far in the Trump era, it's shrinking.

As we discussed a few weeks ago, the typical response from GOP partisans is to focus on the congressional special elections, where Republican candidates have had far more success this year.

It's a fair point, but I'm still inclined to disagree. There have been five congressional special elections so far 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 certainly 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.