The Most Important New Hampshire Special Election You Haven’t Heard About

Next week, a special election for one of New Hampshire’s 24 state senate districts will be held.  The district, District 16, formerly held by a Democrat won’t change the partisan makeup of the chamber.  Republicans will hold a 14-10 majority even if they fail to gain the seat.  But, the district’s results will tell us much about Republicans can expect to spare in districts that intersect with Obama/Trump “pivot” counties next year.

Now, for some background.  The district had a GOP Senator representing it since 1970.  Until last year when then candidate Scott McGilvray won the open seat by two points.  The district voted for Hillary Clinton by .3 percent at the same time.  McGilvray is leaving the seat and former state senator David Boutin is vying for his old seat against Democrat Kevin Cavanaugh.

New Hampshire is an interesting state.  From the 70’s to the 90’s the “Live free or die” state was a Republican bastion.  But, since 1992 the state has backed Democratic Presidential candidates in every election except 2000.

Since the 90s an equilibrium in power at the state level has occurred.  Democrats, until last year, held the Governorship for all of two years in the last twenty (meaning they have won nine of the last 11 gubernatorial elections).  Yet, short of 2007-2010 the GOP has held at least one chamber of the legislature.  Now, for the first time in the state’s history its federal delegation is completely made up of Democrats while all the levers of power in the state are held by Republicans.

Legislative special elections this year have not gotten nearly as much attention as Congressional contests.  So far, this year, 34 special legislative elections have been held.  Republicans flipped a conservative seat in Louisiana while Democrats have flipped a swing New Hampshire house seat, a blue-collar formerly Republican assembly district in NY state and two suburban districts in Oklahoma.  Unsurprisingly, while Democrats have so far outrun Clinton in legislative special elections they have done best in Oklahoma (run by an unpopular GOP Governor) and flipped swingy districts in NY and NH.  Republicans have held easily seats in Connecticut where the Democratic controlled legislature and Governor cannot even agree on a simple budget.

These results suggest state dynamics matter more than Trump’s popularity.  However, such a proposition will be seriously tested in this near dead even district.  It will be hard for Republicans to ignore the results of this election if a popular, former state senator loses the seat.  If Boutin wins, a pro-union Republican, it would indicate smart GOP incumbents can weather the Trump backlash.  But, if he loses, and GOP turnout is depressed, Republicans will need to start acknowledging unless things change in DC they will be in serious trouble.

Democrats are undoubtedly more excited about this contest than Republicans.  The GOP will still strongly control the chamber regardless of the result and Boutin would not help the party advance some of its goals such as right to work legislation.  Democrats also view many down-ballot contests such as these as precursors to 2018.  State Republicans want to win this but may find enthusiasm is lacking due to Trump and the opposition he has inspired.

In the end, whatever happens next Tuesday won’t change much in Granite state politics.  Or the nation’s.  But it could be a precursor to a big shake-up at the federal level next year.

 

 

 

https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2013/10/11/gerrymandering_isnt_to_blame_for_dc_impasse_120300.html

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Should The GOP Be Worried About Montana Now

Democrats have come close three times now to rebuking President Trump. In KS-4 they turned a 27 point Trump district into a seven point nail biter. Last month, they almost won outright the primary for Tom Price’s old seat in Georgia.  Democrats had a shot in Omaha’s mayoral race until they engaged in political suicide over Heath Mello’s position on abortion.  But, in all cases the party fell short and in politics there is no medal for finishing second.

Now Democrats have turned their attention to the Montana at large house special election.  The seat became vacant after then Congressman Ryan Zinke was nominated by the President to be Secretary of the Interior.  Zinke first won election in 2014 with 15 percent and won reelection last year with a similar margin.

Democratic activists are excited to test the theory of whether a Bernie Sanders style progressive can win in deeply red territory.  Rob Quist, a folksy, cowboy hat wearing Bernie fan is running for the seat while Republicans nominated 2016 gubernatorial nominee Greg Gianforte.

Donald Trump won the largely rural and white state by 20 points and unlike in other statwide races Democrats have not won a statewide race for Congress since 1994.  Republican strength in the rural areas should make this seat safe.  But GA-6 and KS-4 showed in the right circumstances Democrats can do well and compete (but so far not win).

Two recent polls have shown Quist within spitting distance of Gianforte.  A Gravis survey from May 4th showed Gianforte ahead 45-37 percent while a Gary-Hart-Yang survey commissioned by the DCCC found Gianforte with a 49-43 lead.  Such polling suggests this special election will be competitive.

Montana is a fairly unique red state.  While it has a Republican state legislature and its sole House member has been a Republican since 1994, Governor Steve Bullock and Senator Jon Tester are both Democrats and have managed to put together winning coalitions (twice).  So can Quist do the same?

Tester and Bullock (A Repeat of the 80’s and 90’s)

Both Bullock and Tester have found success in statewide races by replicating the political map of Dukakis in 1988.  For example, while Barack Obama struggled in urban and rural places alike, Tester managed to come fairly close to recreating Dukakis’s political coalition.  Hillary Clinton did even worse than Obama.

Tester managed to win by doing what Obama and Clinton could not.  He did not let the bottom fall out in rural areas.  He won around 40 percent of the rural vote and over 50 percent in small towns and big cities.  Further, he managed to run up the score in college towns in the Western part of the state.  By contrast, Clinton did not even manage to win 50 percent of the vote in large towns and she won less than 30 percent of the vote in small towns.

Tester’s map is similar to Dukakis’s 1988 bid.  For reference, Dukakis lost the state by six points while he lost nationally by eight points.  Republicans managed to run almost even in urban centers but were unable to build big margins in rural areas.

Of course, today is not 1988.  A lot has changed in the state and nationally.  Rural voters, particularly in the Eastern Plains, were more hospitable to Democrats in 1988 than they are now.  While population centers have gotten bluer Democrats have gotten the short end of this stick.

But Tester and most recently Bullock were able to turn back the clock on Montana’s political preferences.  So how did they do this?

All Politics Is Local

Voting is a complicated and personal process but one can draw a couple conclusions from Tester and Bullock’s victories.  First, they ran as Montana Democrats.  Not national Democrats!

Take Tester.  The Senator is openly pro-gun and campaigned heavily on cutting wasteful spending.  He has also vowed to reform the ACA (but not repeal it).  Bullock was one of the first Democratic Governors to call for a cautious approach to Syrian resettlement and supported the Keystone XL Pipeline.  Such positions mark them as moderates in an increasingly liberal party.

Secondly, both project Montana values (ie. not cultural cosmopolitanism).  Tester wears cowboy boots and proudly talks of hunting while Bullock first won election in 2012 running an ad featuring nothing but endorsements from police officers.

Such a strategy is reminiscent of Democratic successes in deeply red West Virginia where Joe Manchin has largely done something similar.  Now, Montana is a red state and Bullock and Tester are not going to appeal to every voter.  They tend to win reelection by narrow margins no matter how many culturally conservative and big town residents they convince.  But a win is a win.

I need to add a caveat here, the above is not always true.  Obama lost the Big Sky State by a mere three points in 2008 while winning nationally by seven points.  Obama was culturally and fiscally liberal and as a result he ran behind (but only somewhat) his national numbers in the state.  By 2012, his liberal agenda cost him the state by 14 points.

So Where Does This Leave Quist?

Quist obviously fits the cultural appeal of his state with his accent and cowboy boots.  But it is unclear whether he will or even can follow his party’s statewide winners paths.

For starters, Quist’s campaign is being fueled by the incredibly liberal grassroots.  The same grassroots that turned on Heath Mello in Nebraska over abortion and is divided between Clinton type feminists and Sanderistas.  Quist may find it hard to turn toward being pro-gun and/or being ambivalent about abortion.

Quist has already found himself in a bind because of this dynamic.  Quist hinted in an interview he was open to bringing back the assault weapons ban, a nod to his progressive fundraising base.  But, in turn, Gianforte pounced on him and is turning him into a cultural elite loyal to his base.

Further, the majority of Quist’s donations are coming from out of state unlike Bullock.  Again, this has made Quist fodder for being beholden to a political, liberal elite.

Now, Gianforte has his own issues.  He is a wealthy businessman and has been attacked for being too fiscally conservative and beholden to special interests.  Be he also has the cash to finance his campaign and name ID from his prior gubernatorial run.

A lot will depend on the shape of the electorate in three weeks.  If turnout in the cities is up Quist is sure to benefit.  But, even if it is lower and turnout in the rural areas is higher Quist still has a shot if he can distance himself from the national party.  Gianforte is already doing that with Republicans in regard to the AHCA.

A lot can change in three weeks but as of now the race looks competitive with the GOP maintaining an edge in the contest.

 

 

 

Do special elections tell us much?

We are only a month into President Trump’s first term and already we have seen a series of special elections with divergent results.  First, a series of special elections in Virginia went as expected with two GOP leaning districts and solidly blue district going their usual way.  But, then a special election in a blue leaning Iowa Senate district went a shade of dark blue.  Most recently, a special election in a Minnesota house district that backed Trump by 29 points favored the GOP nominee by a mere 6 points.

All this begs the question of whether this is a sign of the Trump effect and its consequences for down-ballot Republicans?  Traditionally, it is often Democrats that suffer in low-key special elections, especially in legislative contests.  But, with special elections coming up to determine control of the Delaware, Connecticut and Washington State senates, the trend seems to lean in Democrats favor.  More so, it suggests Democrats are primed to do well in 2018.  Or are they?  Are special elections really that predictive?

A brief look at recent history gives a mixed message.  In 2009, Republicans had an excellent shot at capturing two special elections, John Murtha’s old district and and an-upstate NY district.  In both cases, contrary to opinion polls and the general mood of the country, Democrats won these open seat races.  But, in both cases, Republicans nominated flawed candidates and Democrats ran excellent candidates that fit their districts.  Months later Republicans would gain 63 seats in the House (but neither of these seats).

In 2011, Republicans giddy off their 2010 success believed they could easily hold a conservative, upstate NY seat.  But, the GOP nominated a weak candidate and Democrats smartly nominated a local candidate who ran against the GOP plans to reform entitlements.  Additionally, a wealthy, third-party candidate ran under the Tea Party banner and arguably split the right leaning vote.  The district, older and whiter than most was especially susceptible to such arguments.  Republicans blew the election.  Yet, a mere five months later Republicans would capture a Brooklyn based district in part on fears Obama was turning against Jews.

These elections told us little about the environment heading into 2012.  Indeed, both districts would throw out their special election winners during the Presidential election in November.

Legislative special elections, because they are so common, often give us conflicting stories heading into an election.  For example, in 2013, a WA State Senate special election in a blue leaning district that flipped Republican shifted 6 points from Obama to the Republican candidate.  This seemed to indicate Democrats were in trouble heading into 2014.  Except, Democrats soon after won another special election in the state a month later.

Even more recently, in 2015 Republicans were giddy about taking the Kentucky House for the first time in 100 years.  Yet, in four special elections held in a month, Democrats won three and kept the House.  A few months later Republican Matt Bevin would win the Governorship and a year later the party would almost capture a super-majority in the House.

As hinted at above, special elections often represent the prevailing views of the time and local events.  Sure, it was easy for Democrats to win races in NY by running against entitlement reform and a split opposition just as it was easy for Republicans to run against Obama in an upscale, suburban Puget Sound seat.  Oftentimes, these races can be swung by singular events at the time that fade as a national election approaches.

Legislative special elections might tell us even less than Congressional special elections.  If we took the Virginia legislative results from earlier this year at face value we would assume Republicans would do fine next year.  But, now a series of special elections tell us that might not be the case.  Except, the general election is 21 months from now and Republicans are embroiled in a crisis of rule.  Who is to say this will continue into next year?

Indeed, who is to say it even continues for a few weeks? Republicans have a chance to take the Delaware State Senate for the first time since the 1960’s in a district local Republicans run well in (not so much at the federal level).  If Republicans win this seat the narrative will completely flip.

WA State is also set to have a special election that will determine control of their state senate.  The district went 65-28 for Clinton but has a tendency to elect moderate, Republican legislators (the moderate, Republican incumbent died of lung cancer).  Imagine if Republicans managed to hold this seat?

Finally, a series of Congressional special elections are coming down the pike.  In Kansas, Mike Pompeo’s seat is open.  In South Carolina, Mick Mulvaney’s district is vacant after he became OMB Director.  Finally, the crown jewel for the left is Tom Price’s seat in Georgia.  The seat flipped from a 20+ point district for Romney to a 47-46 win for Trump.  At the same time it elected Tom Price by 20+ points.

Measuring the impact of these districts results is an imperfect art.  Certainly, comparisons to how these districts behaved last year will be the norm.  Little attention will probably be paid to the individual candidates themselves or the local/national issues percolating in each district.  But these results might not tell us much.  National events will play significantly in these races as will the strengths of the candidates themselves.  If anything, the strength of Democratic candidates in a series of special elections (leading to victories) made it seem as if the party was better off than it was heading into 2010 (in fact, Democrats had a streak of Congressional double-digit wins in special elections until 2011).

So, long story short, special elections can tell us something and nothing at once.  They can point to the general trend of politics at one time.  But they tend to be pretty lousy at predicting general election results a year and a half or even months away.