Tuesday Special Elections Could Be Harbinger of Second Blue Wave Come November
A pair of congressional primaries on Tuesday could prove to be the first indicators of a brewing second blue wave come the November general election.
The most high-profile of the contests is taking place in California’s 25th Congressional District, in the north Los Angeles suburbs, where the minimal polling that has taken place indicates the race between state Assemblywoman Christy Smith and Republican Mike Garcia is too close to call.
The election is being held to decide who will fill the remainder of the term of former Rep. Katie Hill, D-Calif., who resigned last year after revelations that she had an inappropriate relationship with one of her staffers.
That term ends in January 2021.
Hill was one of the moderate Democrats who helped flip a seat in the 2018 midterm elections — she defeated incumbent Republican Steve Knight by a solid nine percentage points — and was seen as a rising star in the party before she was upended by scandal.
Democrats are hoping the election, which is being held almost entirely by mail, is a referendum on the White House’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
Throughout, Smith’s campaign has sought to tie Garcia closely to the president, especially in its closing argument ahead of Tuesday.
If Garcia defeats Smith on Tuesday, it will mark the first time a Republican has flipped a House seat to the GOP column in California since 1998. It will also likely be trumpeted by Republicans as a sign that they can appeal to the suburban voters who have been increasingly leaning toward Democratic candidates — particularly since President Donald Trump was elected in 2016.
But political analysts say a Garcia victory could prove to be illusory because both he and Smith advanced in the primary held on March 3 to determine who will run for the seat in November.
That set up a rematch between Smith and Garcia in the general election in a district where Democrats have a 28,000-person registration advantage over Republicans and a presidential race that’s likely to bring most of them to the polls.
In 2016, voters in the district supported Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump, giving her a seven point victory.
This is the second round of voting in the district as no candidate won an outright majority on March 3 to claim the seat. Smith and Garcia were the two top finishers in the initial vote.
According to bipartisan Political Data Inc., about 123,116 mail-in ballots had been returned as of Tuesday morning, with about 40% being returned by registered Republicans, 27% by registered Democrats, and 20% by independents.
While the initial numbers appear to bode well for Garcia, many Democrats believe Smith has been closing the gap in recent days, maintaining that older, more conservative voters tend to vote earlier.
In California, ballots must be postmarked on or by Election Day, but they can be received up to three days after, meaning it could be a number of days before the outcome is known.
Wisconsin Hosts Second Closely Watched Race
The second special election being held today is in the 7th Congressional District in northwest Wisconsin.
It’s the first electoral contest held in the state since Wisconsin’s controversial presidential primary on April 7. The state’s governor, Tony Evers, and the Republican leadership of the legislature, squared off before the primary, arguing how and when it should be held against the backdrop of the coronavirus outbreak.
After the election went ahead as planned, it was marked by long lines at many polling locations.
On Monday, Elizabeth Goodsitt, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, told The Well News that 71 people who tested COVID-19 positive in the state after April 9 reported they voted in person or worked the polls on election day.
“However, several of those people reported other possible exposures as well,” Goodsitt said.
She also noted that since public health officials in the state only have data on positive cases, without a comparison group of people who were not tested or tested negative, there is no way to know with certainty if any of the COVID-19 cases reported since the primary are attributable to exposure at the polls.
Gov. Evers based his decision to go ahead with Tuesday’s special election on the rural nature of the large congressional districts, conditions he believes won’t lead to another day of long voter lines at polling places.
In April, the longest lines were reported in urban areas like Milwaukee and Green Bay, which are not voting on Tuesday; the biggest city in the 7th District is Wausau, population less than 40,000.
Republican state Senator Tom Tiffany and Democrat Tricia Zunker are running to fill the seat left vacant by Rep. Sean Duffy, who resigned in September, saying that he and his wife were expecting a child who “will need even more love, time and attention due to complications, including a heart condition.”
Zunker is a local school board president and justice on the Ho-Chunk tribal Supreme Court. If elected, she would be the first Native-American to represent the state.
She said she decided to run because she wanted to build on the legacy of Rep. Dave Obey, a liberal reformer who represented the district from 1969 to 2011.
In an interview with CBS News, Zunker said she has “a duty and obligation to give back.”
State Senator Tiffany, who has been in the state legislature since 2010, has positioned himself as the experienced candidate and one prepared to “hit the ground running in difficult times.”
Though the district skews red — Trump beat Clinton there by 20 points in 2016 — Zunker has been coming on of late, especially since notching endorsements from Sens. Cory Booker, Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren.
According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, more than 93,000 Democratic votes were cast in the district during the presidential primary, and 104,000 Democrats have requested absentee ballots for the special election.
As of Tuesday morning, 85,401 absentee ballots have been returned to the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
The 7th Congressional District was once a center of Democratic populism and threw its support behind then Sen. Barack Obama in 2008. Since then, it has grown increasingly Republican.
While both races, in California and Wisconsin, are expected to be close — and even potential nail-biters — Geoffrey Skelley and Nathaniel Rakich, writing for the Five Thirty-Eight website, have suggested the final margin will tell the true tale of the contests.
“When a party consistently over performs its usual partisan baseline in special elections, it bodes well for that party in the general election as well. So even a narrow loss by Zunker, if paired with a comfortable Smith win, would add to the evidence that another Democratic wave is building,” they said.
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