Early Tuesday evening, Democrat Linda Belcher was pronounced the winner of the special election in Kentucky's House District 49, a seat that Donald Trump carried by a 72-23 margin in 2016 and that went 66-33 for Mitt Romney in 2012. Her 68-32 victory ...
Early Tuesday evening, Democrat Linda Belcher was pronounced the winner of the special election in Kentucky’s House District 49, a seat that Donald Trump carried by a 72-23 margin in 2016 and that went 66-33 for Mitt Romney in 2012.
Her 68-32 victory represents a ridiculous 45-point improvement on Hillary Clinton’s performance. In fuller context, it’s a little less ridiculous than that. Belcher had previously represented this district in the state legislature, lost a very narrow 50.4-49.6 race in 2016; then the man who defeated her, Dan Johnson, killed himself while under a cloud of sexual assault allegations. The GOP nominated Johnson’s widow and Belcher reclaimed her old seat.
Still, Belcher improved by 18 points on her own margin from just 15 months ago — a very clear sign of Democrats’ down-ballot recovery in the Trump era.
Democrats are cleaning up in special elections
According to an extremely useful comprehensive spreadsheet compiled by Daily Kos, across 70 special elections in 2017, Democrats ran 10 points ahead of Clinton and 7 points ahead of Obama’s 2012 results. Those numbers have accelerated into 2018. Across 14 races, Democrats are running 28 points ahead of Clinton and 14 points ahead of Barack Obama.
Historically speaking, special election results usually are somewhat predictive of midterm general election outcomes, though I don’t think anyone believes it’s realistic for Democrats to obtain a nationwide 45-point swing relative to Clinton’s numbers.
Meanwhile, the special elections are already having real-world impact.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has decided to leave a number of formerly GOP-held seats vacant rather than schedule special elections his party might lose, national Republicans are pushing the panic button on an upcoming special House election in Pennsylvania, and GOP leadership is letting scandal-plagued Rep. Blake Farenthold stick around in his seat rather than risk a special election.
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