Roy Moore’s victory in Alabama dominated the news on Wednesday. But, it was two far less high-profile races on Tuesday night – one in Florida, one in New Hampshire – that may well give us the best indication of where we are headed in the 2018 midterm elections.
In Florida, Democrat Annette Tadeo won a Republican-held state Senate district 51% to 47%. In New Hampshire, Democrat Kari Lerner beat a former Republican state representative to fill a state House district that Donald Trump won by 23 points last November.
Those twin wins make it eight Republican-controlled state legislative seats that Democrats have flipped in 2017 alone. (Republicans flipped a Democratic state House seat in Louisiana earlier this year although Democrats didn’t even field a candidate in that race.)
That means that of the 27 Republican-held state legislative seats that have come open in 2017 to date, Democrats have now flipped almost 30% of them – a remarkable number in any circumstance but especially so when you consider the average Trump margin in these seats in 2016 was 19 points.
Yes, each of these races have unique dynamics. In the Florida race, for example, the seat was open because the Republican incumbent was forced to resign after making racists comment to several black lawmakers at a bar in Tallahassee. It’s not exactly easy to run as a Republican in the district in the wake of that sort of scandal.
Despite the differing circumstances in each of these races, however, Republicans ignore this trend at their own political peril. While Democrats at the federal level haven’t been able to pull off the wins they have scored downballot, in virtually every House special election this year Democrats overperformed – by a large amount – Hillary Clinton’s 2016 showing in these congressional seats.
There’s also the fact that approval for the Republican party hit its lowest point ever recorded in a CNN poll this month. And that Democrats held a 9-point lead over Republicans on the generic ballot question in that same poll.
Then there’s the daunting history facing the GOP. According to Gallup, the average seat loss for the president’s party in midterm elections with a president under 50% approval (as Trump is now) is 36 – a number that, if past predicted present, would cost Republicans their House majority.
The signs, in other words, are all there for an electoral reckoning for Republicans in 2018.
So, why aren’t we hearing more about it? Because state legislative races aren’t sexy. Because Democrats haven’t been able to win one of the more high profile GOP-held House seats in a series of special elections so far this year. Because there’s still more than a year left before the midterms. Because the congressional lines have been drawn to make it very difficult for Democrats to make large-scale gains.
But, don’t mistake what we are seeing: Considerable overperformance by Democrats often in heavily Republican areas. That’s true at the state legislative and federal levels. And, if it continues to anything close to the extent we’ve seen in the first nine months of 2017, Republicans could be headed for major problems at the ballot box next November.