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In a pro-Trump district, Republicans come up short (again)

If GOP officials are looking at yesterday's results in Missouri and not feeling anxiety, they’re not paying close enough attention.
In this Jan. 7, 2014 file photo the Gateway Arch dominates the skyline in St. Louis. (Photo by Jeff Roberson/AP)
In this Jan. 7, 2014 file photo the Gateway Arch dominates the skyline in St. Louis.

Missouri was home to four state legislative special elections yesterday, and Republicans had reason to be confident about each contest. These were four ruby-red districts, where voters backed Donald Trump by landslide margins, and where Democrats didn't even bother to field a candidate in the most recent election cycle.

And yet, the races did not go the way the GOP had hoped. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch  reported overnight:

Democrats made a small dent in the GOP's supermajority in the Missouri House on Tuesday, swiping a Jefferson County-based district that had been held by a Republican.Democrat Mike Revis snagged nearly 52 percent of the vote compared to Republican David Linton's 48 percent, according to preliminary results from the Missouri secretary of state.Based on the unofficial results, Republicans held on to three other seats in four special elections on Tuesday, winning decisively in two western Missouri districts and narrowly in the southeast Missouri 144th District.

Note, in the district where Mike Revis (D) prevailed, Donald Trump won by 28 points in the most recent presidential election. At face value, this did not look like an area where a Democrat would expect to be competitive, but the seat flipped from red to blue anyway.

And while the Republican candidates won in yesterday's other Missouri contests, Daily Kos' Carolyn Fiddler highlighted the fact that the Democratic candidates in each of those races overperformed relative to Trump's margin in 2016.

Those are the kind of results that should probably make Republicans nervous, especially given the recent trend: since this president took office, Democrats have now flipped 35 state legislative districts, according to a tally from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

As we discussed last month, after similar results in Wisconsin, 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 U.S. House special elections so far this year, and Republicans have won four of them (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.

And then, of course, there was a certain U.S. Senate special election in Alabama, which didn’t exactly go Republicans’ way.

If GOP officials are looking at these results and not feeling anxiety, they’re not paying close enough attention.