Even with all of the lockdown restrictions, voters somehow managed to make it to the polls yesterday for two special elections and the Republican candidates appear to have locked both of them down (if you’ll pardon the phrase). The first one was in Wisconsin and the result wasn’t much of a surprise. In the Seventh District, the race to replace the now-retired Sean Duffy is projected to go to Tom Tiffany. The 7th is a fairly solidly conservative district and Tiffany had garnered the endorsement of President Trump. (Associated Press)
Tom Tiffany, a state senator endorsed by President Donald Trump, easily won a special congressional election Tuesday in a heavily conservative, rural Wisconsin district, cheering Republicans even as Democrats argued the victory revealed vulnerabilities for the president among his base.
Tiffany’s win over Democrat Tricia Zunker in northern Wisconsin’s 7th District comes in the state’s second election amid the coronavirus pandemic the past five weeks. Tiffany will replace former reality TV star Sean Duffy, a Republican who retired in September. The district has been vacant since Duffy’s retirement.
Trump won Wisconsin by less than a point, but carried the district by 20 points, in 2016. Tiffany’s win over Zunker was about 6 points less than that, based on preliminary results.
The Democrats are trying to argue that Tiffany’s margin of victory (14 points!) is a sign that Trump is in trouble. If that sounds like some magical thinking to you, that’s because it is. Trump carried the district by 20 points in 2016, but that was an election that produced near-record turnout. Special elections are notorious for lower turnouts in normal times. Special elections during a pandemic are even more problematic. The margin of error always goes up when turnout is low, so this one appears to be well within the range you might expect.
The other race was at least somewhat more interesting. California’s 25th district seat was vacated last year when Katie Hill (of “throuple” fame) stepped down amid a scandal involving inappropriate sexual relations with one or more staffers. Republican Mike Garcia has a double-digit lead this morning over Democrat Christy Smith. This one is generating some headlines because it’s the first time that the GOP has flipped a blue seat in California in a very long time.
That’s not really a full picture of the story, however. This was a traditionally red district and Hill’s election in 2018 was really something of an outlier during a blue wave. Hill was the first Democrat to win in the 25th since the 1992 election following the redrawing of the district maps. So we did see what would technically be described as a “flip” of the seat, but this appears to be more of a return to normalcy in the 25th than any sort of sea change.
What, if anything, this portends for November remains to be seen. If we’re going to return to something approaching normalcy by the end of the summer and general election turnout is fairly typical, we’re going to have a tight race on our hands. But if the country is still almost entirely focused on the pandemic, keep your eyes open for some very squirrely results. As both Ed Morrissey and I have discussed in the past, most other issues normally being debated will very likely be low on the priority list for voters. Donald Trump is going to be facing a referendum on how well he handled the coronavirus pandemic and, as a result, how that impacts the economy and the employment situation. And the GOP’s chances of holding onto their Senate majority will likely be bound to Trump’s fortunes at the hip.