Perhaps the best indicator of whether Democrats could win big in the November midterm elections is the fact that they are already winning special elections that — in theory — they should lose.
On Tuesday night, Democrats won special elections for state representative seats in New Hampshire and Connecticut that were previously held by Republicans. Those victories bring the current tally to 39 state legislative races that have flipped from Republican to Democrat since the 2016 election, according to the University of Minnesota’s Ballotpedia.org. During the same period there have been just four Democrat-to-Republican turnovers (though in one case, the Democrats didn’t field a candidate).
The New Hampshire election took place in a district to represent Laconia, a traditionally Republican city that President Trump won by 13 percentage points. On Tuesday night, the Democratic candidate Phil Spagnuolo won by 8 points. He had never run for office before.
In Connecticut it was a similar story, where a first-time Democratic candidate won a state House seat that has been held by Republicans for 40 years. While Hillary Clinton easily won the state of Connecticut by 14 percentage points, she only won this particular legislative district by 2 points. And indeed the Democrat in this race by 2 points.
Republicans quickly dismissed the import of these elections. The New Hampshire Republican Party noted that it was a lowturnout local election taking place during school vacation week.
With those dynamics at play, “a small subset of voters elected a pro-life Democrat with deep community ties and a compelling personal narrative,” New Hampshire Republican Party chair Jeanne Forrester said. (It’s worth noting that Spagnuolo, the Democrat, later clarified a remark at a forum that while he personally opposes abortion, he would vote for abortion rights.)
Republicans have a point that it is hard to read much into any one special election, where turnout is typically lackluster and there could be all kinds of factors that figure into the end result. But, in the aggregate, the trend line is hard to look past.
Since the 2016 election there have been 92 special elections held for state legislative races. Most of those seats stayed within the same party, given how districts are gerrymandered. However, about 20 percent of those seats did flip from Republican to Democrat, and in some very pro-Trump territories. There are signs that Democratic voters are simply more excited to vote.
Among the red-to-blue flips, five have taken place in New Hampshire, home of the nation’s largest Legislature. Among the four blue-to-red flips was one in Massachusetts last year.
Looking at past data, there is a direct correlation between special election wins by a party and a coming wave year, especially during midterm contests.
But special elections aren’t the only indicator suggesting that this November could be a good one for Democrats. There is also a large contingent of Republicans in Congress who have decided not to seek reelection this year, and polling has consistently showed that voters are more likely to pick a Democrat over a Republican.
Yet for all that, politics is an unpredictable business. And while there is evidence that all signs point to a big year for Democrats, that could change quickly.