Democrats won yet another moral victory in a special election last night. Which is to say, they lost.
As Daily Kos Elections notes, Republican Kay Kirkpatrick won her runoff in Georgia's 32nd Senate District by only a 14-point margin, despite the fact that all the Republicans put together performed three points better in the April 18 jungle primary. Moreover, the winner only maintained the same victory margin as Trump had won in 2016 (also 14 points), a far cry from Mitt Romney's 36-point win in 2012. Also, the Democrat in the race spent only about $10,000, whereas Fitzpatrick spent a total of $300,000, most of it in the multi-way primary.
But there are a few other factors to consider. For one thing, there was a huge (almost 50 percent) drop-off in turnout between the primary and the general — the primary had been held on the same date as the very high-profile and expensive race for Georgia's Sixth Congressional District, which partly overlaps the seat. (It beats my why the general elections weren't also held concurrently, but that's election administration for you.)
Only about 33,000 votes were cast last night, less than half the number won by former Republican state Sen. Judson Hill when he won unopposed in 2016, and about 20,000 fewer than when he won unopposed in 2014. In fact, we don't even have a competitive state Senate election to compare to this one, because Hill had won unopposed in all three of the general elections since the district was drawn.
In short, this is a bit thin as moral victories go. It is definitely a less impressive result than the special congressional election in Kansas last month, where Democrats vastly overperformed, losing by seven points in a district Trump had carried by 27.
Since November, there have been 18 special state and congressional elections in which Democratic candidates competed. That doesn't count the still-pending U.S. House election in Georgia (the runoff is June 20) or the Omaha mayor's race, which the DNC turned into a national story when it turned the race into a circular firing squad over the issue of abortion.
So far, Democrats have fared better than usual in most of these low-turnout special election affairs, a clear sign that their base is energized and interested in winning elections for a change. But not a single race so far has delivered a surprising result — that is, a Democrat winning in a place where Democrats usually lose. The closest they came was in the primary for Georgia's Sixth congressional district, when Jon Ossoff came up two points short of the 50 percent he needed to win outright and avoid a runoff election.
Democrats shouldn't be too discouraged. In the run-up to their wave midterm election of 2010, Republicans did not win anything of significance in the spring of President Obama's first year in office. It wasn't until that fall's New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial elections, followed by Scott Brown's win in the January 2010 Massachusetts special Senate election, that things really fell into place for them. And it wasn't until May 2010 that Republicans won any special House elections at all — that's when Charles Djou surprisingly picked up a heavily Democratic seat in Hawaii.
The situation at that time, however, was a bit different. Obama was extremely popular at this point eight years ago (he only began to fall off in summer 2009), whereas Trump never has been very popular, not even on the day he won election as president with a 38 percent favorable rating in the exit polls.
Democrats are hoping the current Trump imbroglio — the one-two gut punch of the Comey affair and the Russian intel leak this week — will help propel them to victories in the special U.S. House elections in Montana on May 25 and in Georgia on June 20. Perhaps it will. Or perhaps they'll just keep racking up moral victories.