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Friday, December 8, 2023
Dec. 8, 2023

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Leubsdorf: A good sign for Dems?

Party’s ongoing success in special elections bodes well for 2024


Democrats are right to be concerned about Joe Biden’s 2024 re-election prospects. An array of national polls shows the president running no better than even with — and often behind — Donald Trump and other GOP hopefuls.

And as The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake recently pointed out, surveys show Trump would reduce normal Democratic margins among the Black and Hispanic voters who have been crucial to the party’s recent successes.

But there is another, more optimistic scenario to which some pro-Democratic strategists are pointing: the persistent success of party candidates in special elections at various levels and what that augurs for 2024.

According to an election chart by Daily Kos, a progressive group, Democratic candidates have outperformed Biden’s 2020 showing by an average of 7.6 points in 25 special elections this year — most for legislative vacancies. A broader analysis by the nonpartisan web site fivethirtyeight.com showed that the Democratic over-performance was 10 points.

The races range from a Wisconsin Assembly district where Democrats cut the GOP victory margin from 17 points to 7 points to a special election for a New Hampshire state House seat where a Democrat won by 12 points in a district Trump carried narrowly in 2020 and by eight points in 2016.

The analysis doesn’t even include the year’s two biggest Democratic victories, its 11-point Wisconsin victory in April for a previously Republican-held Supreme Court seat, and Ohio’s rejection in August of a GOP effort to make amending the state Constitution harder in November’s referendum on establishing the right to make reproductive decisions.

The pro-Democratic trend, which stretches back to the aftermath of the 2020 election and Trump’s failed effort to overturn Biden’s victory, resembles the one preceding the party’s 2018 midterm victories and pro-GOP patterns before some of its past congressional and presidential successes.

Democratic analysts say it has grown in the 15 months since the Supreme Court reversed its 1973 ruling legalizing abortions and set off state-by-state battles over the issue.

One of Biden’s chief strategists, Mike Donilon, recently sought to tamp down Democratic concerns by calling Trump and abortion the two factors that would re-elect the president in 2024. Both were issues in some recent special elections and loom as factors in November’s important Virginia legislative elections.

Simon Rosenberg, a prominent Democratic analyst who correctly dismissed the likelihood of a Republican “red wave” in last year’s midterm elections, is calling the special election results omens that indicate the possibility of an unexpectedly large 2024 Democratic victory.

“Is it predictive of what will happen next year?” Rosenberg asked in his Hopium Chronicles blog. “Of course not. But is it really good news? Absolutely.”

For months, Rosenberg has contended that because of the pro-Democratic trend, the party’s growing strength in the Southwest and his belief that Trump is unlikely to reach his 2020 level of 47 percent of the popular vote, Democrats could get to 55 percent in 2024.

While the Democrats have outpolled the Republicans in the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections, only Barack Obama and Biden surpassed 50 percent. That could become even harder with one or more independent candidates.

One significant sign of potential weakness for Biden not evident in these special elections is his weaker-than-usual poll showings among minority voters, who formed more than one-third of the Democrats’ 2020 vote, according to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. According to Blake’s recent analysis, Trump is averaging 20 percent of Black voters and 42 percent of Hispanic voters, according to five recent “high-quality polls.”

In recent weeks, Vice President Kamala Harris has been making a special outreach to young and minority voters with a tour of college campuses that includes several historically Black schools.

Indeed, everything the Biden campaign and White House are doing indicates they recognize that their main need is to overcome the negative perceptions of him among voters and the frequently expressed concerns by party officials.

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