Despite two straight setbacks in special congressional elections — one an outright loss, the other a failure to avoid a runoff — Democrats feel good about their position in 2018.
In Kansas and Georgia, Democrats competed in two deep red districts and did better than any of their party's recent congressional nominees in either place.
Jon Ossoff, the 30-year-old former congressional aide who is the Democratic candidate to replace Republican former Rep. Tom Price, now President Trump's secretary of health and human services, could still win the runoff in June. He received 48 percent of the vote in the first of balloting, 28 points better than Republican runner-up Karen Handel.
The Democrats didn't come quite as close in Kansas, where their party's congressional nominee lost by nearly 7 points. But this was also a district Trump carried by 27 points and former Rep. Mike Pompeo, who resigned to become director of the CIA, won by 31 points.
Still, there is an element of truth to the Republican spin after these elections. "Ultimately, the objective is to win races — not just finish close and chalk it up to a moral victory," said a Republican operative.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer put it in even starker terms during a briefing after the Georgia special election.
"The Democrats went all in on this race," he said." They spent over $8.3 million. They said on the record that their goal was to win this race. They lost and the reaction has somewhat been that they almost won. No, they lost."
Spicer added, "And so anything short of describing that as a loss is sort of inconceivable to me in the sense that that's literally what they said their goal was to do. And they said, we want to win Tuesday night with over 50 percent. They came up short of their goal."
At the same time, running nearly 30 points behind the Democrat in a race for a seat Price was just re-elected to with 62 percent of the vote wasn't the Republicans' goal either. Even in November, enough suburban Republican leaners defected that Trump won this district by just 1.5 points. Ossoff ran ahead of Hillary Clinton.
Even if you don't believe this suggests anything deeper about discontent with Trump or the electoral strength of "the resistance," good feelings generated by special elections have a way of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies.
The better Democrats do in usually safe Republican districts this year, the more it will help their fundraising and candidate recruitment for the 2018 midterm elections. State Sen. Jennifer Wexton is the latest and strong Democratic candidate to come forward to challenge Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., who represents a reddish district Trump lost last year.
It also encourages Democrats to compete in a wide variety of districts, thereby forcing Republicans to spend money in places they normally wouldn't. Liberal interest groups are already turning their attention to the Montana seat Ryan Zinke left vacant to serve as secretary of the interior, although national Democratic organizations aren't expected to spend heavily in a state Trump won by over 20 points.
"We have Tom Perriello running in Virginia in June in a very competitive primary, we have Rob Quist running in a competitive special election in Montana, and no matter what happens tonight, it's going to feed the energy of these other races," Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Adam Green told MSNBC.
Democrats also hope to contest the South Carolina House seat Mick Mulvaney left vacant when he was confirmed as director of the Office of Management and Budget. But so far they haven't been able to coax top candidates off the sidelines. One promising prospect, state Sen. Vincent Sheehen, has already ruled out a run.
Narrow Republican victories in safe GOP districts in both California and Ohio in 2005 presaged the Democratic congressional takeover in 2006. Republicans began their successful 2010 midterm campaign by winning a special Senate election in Massachusetts for the seat long held by Ted Kennedy. Then they retook Congress.
Then again, the Democratic pickup in New York's 23rd Congressional District during a 2009 special didn't mean much for 2010. Neither did the special election to replace deceased Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., in Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District. That race was won by the Democrats ahead of major Republican gains.
Democrats will have to start winning soon. But for now, "close enough" is all the encouragement they need.