US election: What do last night’s results mean for the Democrats this November?

The party's determination to cling on to the house remains intact, but not all the signs are good

Andrew Naughtie
Wednesday 13 May 2020 14:15
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Tuesday night was election night across the US, with two bellwether special elections for seats in the House of Representatives and various primaries for races in November. Both elections were triggered when the incumbents resigned, putting one Republican seat and one Democratic one up for grabs.

After massive spending on all sides and fierce intra-party competition, the results show that the Democrats have some serious ground to make up – but also that their up-and-coming progressives are more than able to upend the establishment across the country.

Wisconsin: Republicans hold firm

State senator Tom Tiffany comfortably won Wisconsin’s 7th district, where Republicans have established a strong foothold over the last decade.

The district was held by Democrat Dave Obey for more than four decades, and it gave the popular vote to Al Gore, John Kerry and then Barack Obama in 2008 – but Mitt Romney defeated Mr Obama there in 2012, and Donald Trump racked up a huge margin over Hillary Clinton across the district in 2016. Those votes helped him capture one of the crucial swing states that secured him his electoral college victory.

As Democrats fight hard to flip Wisconsin and states like it this November, districts like Mr Tiffany’s are exactly the kind where Joe Biden needs to close in on Mr Trump – even if the district’s house seat remains in Republican hands. Mr Tiffany’s 15-point margin on Tuesday night would indicate that Mr Biden has some way to go.

California: the Blue Wave crashes?

The story in California’s 25th district is rather different.

The seat was captured by Democrat Katie Hill in an upset victory at the 2018 midterms, but then left open when Ms Hill resigned after right-wing outlets accused her of “inappropriate” sexual relationships with campaign staff and released nude photos of her obtained without her consent.

The Democrats had some hope that their candidate, Christy Smith, could hold the seat – but while the result of yesterday’s election has yet to be officially called, the signs for her are not good.

With some mail-in ballots still to be counted, Republican Mike Garcia leads Ms Smith by a comfortable 12 points; he declined to give a victory speech on election night, but his party will take confidence that they can outperform expectations in seats the Democrats took from them just one election ago – even as the incumbent Republican president remains unpopular.

Primaries: Resist, resist, resist

As far as the party’s rising progressive tendency is concerned, last night’s results added colour to an increasingly bright picture.

Ever since challenger Marie Newman toppled an incumbent congressman in Illinois this March, younger, more left-wing and more anti-establishment candidates have been running strong in primaries across the country. Last night saw progressive upstarts trouncing establishment-backed moderate candidates in Nebraska, Idaho, and Pennsylvania – proving that the progressive movement can organise to win in places where pragmatism and political triangulation were once the name of the game.

Whether these candidates can win house seats and governors’ mansions in November is another matter, but the exceptional fundraising power the left have worked up could lend them some badly needed muscle – even in seats the Democrats don’t usually expect to win.

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