In a pair of special elections on Tuesday, Democratic candidates flipped statehouse seats in Oklahoma and New Hampshire, winning by double digits in districts that voted for President Donald Trump in November, and adding to a growing list of party victories that could offer insight into coming elections.
In the New Hampshire race for a state House seat, Democrat and small-business owner Charles St. Clair secured 55 percent of the vote in a district that Trump won by 19 points. In Oklahoma, meanwhile, schoolteacher Jacob Rosecrants won 60 percent of the vote in his district, according to unofficial election results, becoming the third Democrat from the state to defeat a Republican challenger for a GOP-held seat this year.
Discussing Rosecrants' win, Carolyn Fiddler at Daily Kos notes:
Trump won this district 52-41 percent last fall, making this win a 31-point swing toward the Democrat. What's more, Rosecrants himself ran for this same seat and lost in 2016...by the same 60-40 margin he won by on Tuesday.
This dramatic shift tracks with the massive improvement in Democratic performance in the majority of special elections at both the congressional and state legislative level since Trump's election last November.
Although Democratic candidates in 2017 special elections for seats in the U.S. Congress have lost close contests in Georgia, Kansas, and Montana, Democrats have flipped six state-level seats in special elections this year. In addition to picking up the other two state legislative seats in Oklahoma this summer, Democrats also flipped a seat in both New Hampshire and New York earlier this year.
"Open seats are far more likely to flip party control than when an incumbent runs," CNN's Chris Cillizza acknowledges, but the combination of "Trump's unpopularity, historic midterm patterns for the president's party, and the early-warning signs" from state legislative districts that helped elect Trump suggest that this shift in key districts for Republicans could foreshadow future Democratic Party wins in coming state-level elections as well as the 2018 midterms.
Recent victories in red districts "bolster the party's attempt to regain nearly 1,000 legislative seats that Democrats have lost across the country since 2009," notes Daniel Marans for the Huffington Post, "and suggest they could make more significant gains in normal state-level elections in Virginia and New Jersey this November."
These state-level wins also come as three Republicans in Congress have announced they will not seek re-election for their competitive U.S. House seats next year, which multiple political analysts have indicated are positive developments for Democrats.
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On Tuesday, the New York Times' Nate Cohn shared on Twitter a "telling chart" that shows a higher number of open seats among congressional Republicans for 2018.
And as David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report points out, in the 2008 election, seats vacated by Republicans led to Democratic gains in Congress.
GOP open seats were a huge driver of Dem gains in '08. So far, 2018 GOP open seats on track to surpass. https://t.co/7YWR5YtmFb— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) September 12, 2017
Nathaniel Rakish, writing for FiveThirtyEight, observes that this recent "pattern of retirements appears to be generational as well as about representatives responding to the political environment," based on his analysis of U.S. representatives' retirements since the mid-1970s.
Although "a rash of retirements doesn't necessarily signal" guaranteed victories for the other party in the next election, Ravish concludes "the most fundamental takeaway is still this: Retirements from a competitive state or district hurt the party the member belongs to" because of incumbency advantage, so "the more Republicans in competitive districts who retire heading into 2018, the more seats Democrats can realistically go after."