FiveThirtyEight claimed ahead of the two special U.S. House elections on Tuesday night that the races “could hint at another blue wave in 2020” if Democrats were able to win in California and be competitive in Wisconsin.
It didn’t go that way.
In Wisconsin, Congressman Sean Duffy of the 7th District had resigned to attend to his family, as he and his wife are expecting a baby this fall who has been diagnosed with a heart defect.
The outspoken pro-life and Catholic representative was popular in the largely rural district in northern Wisconsin, winning five terms handily, though Democrat U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin almost carried the district in 2018.
The special election to succeed him featured Republican state Sen. Tom Tiffany and Democrat law professor Tricia Zunker. Democrats had hoped to at least give Tiffany a run for his money, but it was never really close: Tiffany won 57 percent – 43 percent on Tuesday night.
The bigger story of the evening was California’s Los Angeles-area 25th District, where Democrat Katie Hill resigned after reports of sexual misconduct with a congressional staffer.
Hill won the seat in 2018 in a 9-point victory, becoming the first Democrat to win the district since 1990.
It seemed to be another death knell for Republicans in California, who have become an endangered species. California holds nonpartisan blanket primaries, where the top two finishers advance to the general election, regardless of party. Republican Mike Garcia, a Navy veteran, took the second spot, while Democrat Christy Smith, a state assemblywoman, took the first spot in the primary.
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Both sides spent heavily in the California race.
Democrats sought to extend the exile of Republican members of Congress in suburban areas, while Republicans wanted to take the seat back in a district where Hillary Clinton won by 7 points in 2016.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and Democrat House Majority PAC spent a combined $2.2 million, while the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and Republican Congressional Leadership fund nearly matched the Democrats with $2.1 million.
Hill even emerged out of the shadows with a $200,000 TV ad campaign railing against President Trump urging voters to turn out, though she didn’t explicitly mention the candidates.
Most interesting, however, was that the California election was conducted almost entirely by mail due to the coronavirus.
Los Angeles County mailed all registered voters a ballot, regardless of whether they requested one.
Conventional wisdom is that mail balloting hurts Republicans due to the increased risk of voter fraud, and the prospect that this November’s elections will see unprecedented levels of absentee voting due to the coronavirus is making Republicans around the country nervous.
But it didn’t play out that way in California: Garcia walloped Smith 56 percent to 44 percent. It’s the first time any California Republican has flipped a Democrat-held seat from blue to red since 1998.
Tuesday’s elections have given Democrats reason to worry.
Garcia’s decisive victory in an almost all-mail election is a shot across the bow, President Trump’s popularity has risen during the pandemic, despite the media’s best efforts, and Joe Biden is an extraordinarily weak standard bearer for his party.
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The coronavirus is making one thing certain: no one knows how the next six months will play out.