Is the Republican Party dead, as some Democratic pundits were chortling in the last days of the government shutdown just a little more than a month ago? The obituary seem premature, at least judging from four state special legislative elections this week. Republicans won three of the four districts and, while trailing, may have won the fourth (California takes a long time to vote).
Iowa Senate District 13: This district includes virtually all of Warren and Madison counties, south and southwest of Des Moines. The northern fringes are exurban, and it also includes the famed bridges of Madison County. It voted 51-to-47 for Mitt Romney in 2012 (according to the helpful data provided by left-wing bloggers at the Daily Kos).
The contest featured two state representatives, and Republican Julian Garrett beat Democrat Mark Davitt 60-to-40. You have to figure this was seriously contested, since Democrats emerged from the 2012 general election with a 26-24 majority in the Iowa Senate, although Republicans held the governorship and a 53-47 majority in the state House. Republican Tod Bowman won the last regularly scheduled election in this district in 2010 by a 50.1-to-49.8 margin.
Wisconsin Assembly District 21: This district covers the southeast corner of Milwaukee County, including the blue-collar suburbs of South Milwaukee facing Lake Michigan and Oak Creek inland. The district voted 51-to-48 for Mitt Romney in 2012. Preliminary results here show Republican Jessie Rodriguez beating Democrat Elizabeth Coppola by a 56-to-44 margin. Rodriguez, who immigrated from El Salvador as a child, is the first Hispanic Republican woman legislator in Wisconsin; Republicans claimed her as part of their Future Majority Project. The district's population appears to have been about 8 percent Hispanic in 2010, to judge from the New York Times's excellent Mapping the Census interactive graphic; the large concentration of Hispanic population is farther north, on the south side of the city of Milwaukee.
Wisconsin Assembly District 69: This district is in north central Wisconsin, containing most of Clark County and smaller parts of Marathon and Wood Counties. Some nearby territory is heavily Democratic, but this district voted 55-to-44 for Mitt Romney. Republican Bob Kulp won with 67 percent of the vote against Democrat Ken Slezak and Independent Tim Swiggum.
California Assembly District 45: This district covers the southwest corner of the San Fernando Valley and goes south to the ridge of the Santa Monica Mountains (Mulholland Drive) to include the heavily white-Anglo (and fairly heavily Jewish) Encino neighborhood; it also includes over the hills Calabasas and Hidden Hills. It proceeds somewhat north of the Ventura Freeway to include some heavily Hispanic neighborhoods, but is probably the least Hispanic of the four San Fernando Valley Assembly districts. Nonetheless, President Obama won the district 63-to-34 in 2012. The results so far show Democrat Matt Dababneh leading Republican Susan Shelley by only a 50.3-to-49.7 margin--a 171-vote margin. Since California takes a long time to count all its votes, this result may or may not hold. From a national or statewide point of view, this scarcely matters; Democrats will have more than a 2-1 margin in the Assembly even if Shelley wins. But it does show a stark decline in Democratic percentage, particularly among Jewish voters. Did John Kerry's pursuit of a deal with Iran hurt Democrats? Maybe: There are some Iranian-Jewish-Americans here who may be following the issue more than most American voters.
These are all state legislative races with low turnouts, and so not necessarily indicative of broader trends. That said, we are increasingly a straight-ticket country, relative turnout matters in off-year elections like November 2014 and Republicans improved over the 2012 presidential benchmark in significant amounts in all four races. All of which suggests that the Republican party is nowhere near death and that the Democratic party, at this moment anyway, faces significant headwinds.