Dems Optimistic about Midterms Thanks to Competitive Special Elections By Heather E. Yates
The national attention on the current Congressional special elections points to compelling developments in the political landscape. Special elections do not usually attract much public attention because in the grand scheme of things, they typically do not mean much in terms of the balance of power. However, these elections are the first electoral contests of Trump’s presidency and, in many ways, represent a preliminary referendum just days ahead of the administration’s important 100-day benchmark.
All eyes focused on the special elections in Kansas’ 4th district and Georgia’s 6th district. Democrats were hopeful to pull off an upset in Kansas and are ramping up efforts in Georgia.
The various Democratic Party committees were optimistic about their chances to capitalize on president Trump’s low approval rating and the early administration failures to mobilize anti-Trump backlash. However, in Kansas’ 4th district, Democrats proved competitive, but not victorious.
The tight race shows the Democrats made the Republican ‘heir apparent’ expend resources in order to stay viable. This alone will energize Democratic party activists and strategists. Even though implications of the special elections are not yet fully apparent, the Democrats are more optimistic about their chances to take back the majority in 2018.
In the race to fill Kansas’ 4th district seat vacated by Mike Pompeo who resigned to be appointed as the CIA director, Ron Estes (R) and James Thompson (D) were in a tight race. A campaign that otherwise should have been an easy victory for Estes, tightened within days of the election attracting a lot of national attention.
The FEC showed Estes with the fundraising advantage, but the tight margin attracted substantive out-of-state donations aimed at boosting Thompson’s get out the vote effort. The RNC felt the pressure and delivered reinforcements in the form of recorded robo-calls by President Trump and Vice President Pence. Sen. Ted Cruz visited the state to stump for Estes.
The surprisingly close race prompted the GOP to expend resources they did not anticipate using prompting the Cook report to adjust its status on Kansas from “likely Republican” to “leans Republican.” The district was not a toss-up, but the Democrats were competitive in a Republican district and the DCCC took note.
Attention now turns to Georgia’s 6th district, which was vacated in similar fashion when Tom Price resigned to accept his appointment at the HHS. The same Cook report mentioned earlier upgraded the district’s competitive status to “toss up.” Considering that Newt Gingrich once held the same district, this is consequential.
The GOP has a crowded field much like the presidential primary race. This presents an advantage for the Democratic frontrunner Jon Ossoff, who is outraising his Republican opposition according to the FEC. The Democrats hoped to punctuate Ossoff’s competitive edge by mobilizing its celebrity power to boost early voter turnout. With the Kansas election decided, the RNC felt the pressure in Georgia to close the competition gap and initiated a digital campaign donation drive that same evening.
The point that within days of the election, both races became very competitive in traditionally strong Republican districts signals that the political mood is shifting and Democrats are especially hopeful that it means favorable momentum for the 2018 midterm election and that there are newly competitive districts on the horizon.
Heather E. Yates (@heatheryatesphd) is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Central Arkansas and the author of The Politics of Emotions, Candidates, and Choices (Palgrave).