Republicans haven’t really had a good election day since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade 11 months ago, and that continued Tuesday night.
The big news out of Tuesday’s slate of non-primary elections is that Republicans lost mayoral seats they have long dominated in two larger cities: Jacksonville, Fla., and Colorado Springs. But Democrats also got some relatively good signs elsewhere in special elections. Together, this fills out a picture of a 2023 election cycle in which they continue to overperform, as they began to do almost immediately post-Roe.
Donna Deegan’s win in Jacksonville marked just the second time Democrats have won a mayor’s race there in the last 30 years. She also won by four points in an electorate that favored Republicans by double digits in most statewide races in 2022. (Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for instance, won by 11.)
The victor in Colorado Springs was not a Democrat but rather an independent and a moderate, businessman Yemi Mobolade. But Mobolade’s victory over Republican former Colorado secretary of state Wayne Williams marks the first time since 1979 that Colorado Springs won’t have a registered Republican as its mayor. Republicans lost the race by 15 points in a city that only narrowly favored Gov. Jared Polis (D) a few months ago. (And Polis, it bears emphasizing, benefited from facing a flawed GOP opponent.)
Tuesday’s elections also featured results in a series of state legislative races that largely mirrored the results of what was a good 2020 election for Democrats.
In Pennsylvania, Democrats held the 163rd state House district, which crucially restored their majority in the chamber. In both that and another state legislative race, they slightly underperformed President Biden’s numbers in those districts but overperformed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 results, according to numbers crunched by Daily Kos Elections.
Elsewhere, Democrats continued to overperform the 2020 results. In a special election for a Kentucky state Senate district, Democrats slightly improved upon both their 2016 and 2020 presidential performances. And in a New Hampshire state House district, a 27-point Biden district delivered a 43-point win.
All told, according to the Daily Kos Elections numbers, Democrats have overperformed the 2020 presidential results by an average of six points across 18 state legislative races this year. (And again, that was a good election for them.) They’ve also beaten their 2016 margins by an average of 10 points.
And that doesn’t include the highest offices on the ballot thus far in 2023. In a crucial Wisconsin state Supreme Court race, the Democratic-aligned candidate won by 11 points, ending 15 years of conservative control of the court. And in the only special congressional election of 2023 so far, in Virginia, Democrats beat their 2020 margin by double digits.
This is, of course, still a relatively small number of races, and it’s still a long way until the 2024 election. The value of these results in predicting races that are more than 17 months away is small, as FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich wrote back in February. But special elections have historically provided significant clues about where things stand, especially when you look at them holistically rather than analyzing one or two high-profile contests.
More than anything, though, the 2023 results thus far look a lot like the special election results occurring after Roe was overturned in June 2022. Republicans had been overperforming in special elections before that date, but afterward the trend flipped on a dime. Democrats overperformed their 2020 margins in all five special congressional elections held between that date and midterm Election Day, by an average of more than five points — similar to their six-point improvement in state legislative races so far in 2023.
That wound up being instructive. Despite some theorizing about a “red wave,” Democrats had one of the best midterm elections for a president’s party in the last century. They lost the House, but they actually gained Senate seats, governor’s seats and state legislative chambers. And they of course also did well in the 2018 and 2020 elections.
For now, the limited 2023 evidence suggests Republicans haven’t done much to right their ship.