Democrats are playing the blame game after losing two special elections for Congress on Tuesday night, but at least one analyst believes there’s plenty of good news for the party.
David Wasserman, who analyzes U.S. House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, wrote Wednesday that the Republican majority could be at risk in next year’s midterm election.
“Although it’s true Democrats have agonizingly yet to capture a red district, they have outperformed their “generic” share of the vote significantly in every contest,” he wrote.
That includes Tuesday night’s special elections in Georgia, where Republican Karen Handel defeated Democrat Jon Ossoff by 4 percentage points, and South Carolina, where Republican Ralph Norman defeated Democrat Archie Parnell by 3 percentage points.
But in both cases, they overperformed the partisan leanings of their deeply red districts, he wrote. In other words, the vote totals for Ossoff and Parnell, even though they lost, were better than what would be expected in such solidly Republican territory. Democrats also overperformed in three other special elections held so far this year, as seen in the chart with his essay.
Over those five special elections, Democrats beat their districts’ leanings by an average of 8 points. If Democrats were to overperform by that much nationwide next year, it could swing 80 seats.
Wasserman added that they wouldn’t actually gain 80 seats in reality, as incumbents will be tougher opponents than special election candidates.
“But these results fit a pattern that should still worry GOP incumbents everywhere, regardless of Trump’s national approval rating and the outcome of the healthcare debate in Congress,” he said.
Wasserman added that the numbers so far show an enthusiasm gap “big enough to gravely imperil the Republican majority next November.”
Not everyone agrees with that assessment.
David Jolly, a Republican and former congressman from Florida who has been critical of President Donald Trump, said Democrats should have won in Georgia on Tuesday night ― and the fact that they didn’t should be a warning.
“This is a district that Donald Trump won by 1.5 percent. A metro area, urban district that frankly should be trending Democrat,” he said on MSNBC on Tuesday night.
He said he thought five months of a “disastrous” Trump administration would have helped Ossoff win.
“As a Republican in some ways I wanted him to because I want to see our party hit the reset button,” Jolly said.
But Republican voters supported their party even if they didn’t support their president.
“And that should strike fear in the heart of Democrats going into ’18,” he said.