Special election results in red congressional districts continue to suggest ominous news for Republicans in the fall midterms, even when their candidates win.
On Tuesday, Republican Debbie Lesko beat her Democratic opponent, Hiral Tipirneni, to become the new representative for Arizona’s 8th Congressional district, which comprises a swathe of suburban Phoenix. (The vacancy was left by the resignation of former Rep. Trent Franks, who resigned in December amid sexual harassment allegations.) But the seat was considered a solid lock for any Republican candidate, and Lesko’s 5 percent margin of victory was far smaller than the 21 percent margin by which Donald Trump won the district in 2016.
The results — like those of other special elections in recent months — suggest that Republicans head into the midterms at a considerable disadvantage. That will surely continue to buoy Democrats in places like Arkansas’s 2nd Congressional District, in which four contenders are jostling to win the May 22nd Democratic primary. Republican Rep. French Hill currently holds the seat.
FiveThirtyEight explains that the results in Arizona bear consideration in part because the race between Lesko and Tipirneni was so generic. Unlike, say, the extraordinary Senate race in Alabama late last year, in which Republican Roy Moore was defeated by Democrat Doug Jones, neither candidate was particularly remarkable. Though
I would add two qualifications. First, be wary of assuming that all red districts track the same trends; voters in Conway, Benton
The second caveat is that the midterms are a long ways away, and while Democrats head into the elections with Trump-fueled enthusiasm on their side, that gap may narrow between now and November. As
The bigger question is what to make of the disparity between the overwhelming swing toward Democrats so far in special election results — which would imply a Democratic wave on par with the historic Republican years of 1994 and 2010 — and the considerably more modest one suggested by the generic congressional ballot, which shows Democrats ahead by only 7 points and implies that the battle for House control is roughly a toss-up.1One plausible answer is that the generic ballot will shift further toward Democrats once voters become more engaged with the campaign in their respective districts and pollsters switch over to likely voter models. Still, both the generic ballot and special election results (when taken in the aggregate) are fairly reliable indicators. Rather than choosing between them, it’s best to consider both. That means entertaining a wide range of scenarios that run between Republicans narrowly holding onto the House and an epic Democratic wave.