- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2018

For two decades, local Democrats lobbied Wolfeboro’s Edith DesMarais unsuccessfully to run for office in the Republican stronghold in central New Hampshire. Not interested, the longtime, well-known resident insisted. But, after last year’s Women’s March in Washington, prodding from her daughter and angst over what the election of President Trump could mean for her granddaughters, that changed.

Mrs. DesMarais won her race for the state legislature in May, giving Democrats their first electoral victory since Mr. Trump took office and flipping control of a House seat that had been Republican since 1913 — in an area Mr. Trump easily carried just six months earlier.

It was the first state legislative seat to flip from Republican control to Democratic control in the wake of the Trump election, but it wouldn’t be the last.

The trend continued last week in Wisconsin, where Democrat Patty Schachtner won a race in a district that Mr. Trump carried by a whopping 17 points in 2016.

It marked the 34th state seat Democrats have captured from Republicans since the presidential election, in what analysts said could be the first waves of an electoral tsunami.

Democrats have won in suburbs and exurbs. They have unseated 12 sitting Republicans. They have gained control of the Washington Senate and nearly won a split in control of the Virginia House. And they have ended the Republican supermajority in the Georgia Senate.

Of the Democratic winners, 21 have been women, with more than a handful current or former teachers. The first transgender state lawmaker won in Virginia, and a lesbian won in Oklahoma.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that the Democrats in the special election races are easily topping the numbers put up by the party’s 2016 presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, suggesting energized voters and big troubles for Republicans heading into November.

“Just the fact that Democrats on average are outperforming Hillary Clinton by 10 points suggests that 2018 is probably going to be a Democratic-leaning environment,” said Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “The question is: How much so?”

Charlie Cook, head of the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan campaign tracker, said his team gives Democrats a 60 percent chance of picking up the 24 seats they need to capture control of the U.S. House this year.

“If Republicans hold the House, I think it would either be because of some seismic, ‘black swan’ event that changes everything, or, and a more plausible possibility, the economy grows for the next 10 months at the same pace as the last nine months AND voters decide to start giving President Trump and congressional Republicans some credit for that,” Mr. Cook said in an email. “So far they aren’t.”

Local vs. national

Republicans have dismissed results like Mrs. DesMarais’ win in New Hampshire as outliers — state races, after all, aren’t often nationalized. This fall’s congressional contests inevitably will be.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California “wasn’t on the ballot in those races — but she will be when it comes to House races in 2018,” said Jesse Hunt, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “She is the most disliked politician in America, and the prospect of her regaining power makes voters shudder.”

But Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said the environment is ripe for a Democratic surge at the state and federal levels, just as it was for a Republican surge in 2010.

“I was chair in 2009 and 2010, and we put everything we could into those special elections and we couldn’t win one to save our lives,” Mr. Buckley said. “Voters just did not want to show up to vote. We could just not motivate them.

“That is just where Republicans are for these elections,” he said. “When the tide is rolling and the wave is building, you can’t make voters who don’t want to vote, vote.”

Democrats hold a 7.6 percent edge when voters are asked whether they will cast a ballot for Democrats or Republicans for Congress, according to polling averages from Real Clear Politics. Prior to the 2010 elections, Republicans held a 9.4 percent advantage.

Steven Rogers, a professor at the University of St. Louis who specializes in state legislative politics, said his research shows that a reliable omen for statehouse and U.S. House races is the incumbent president’s approval rating.

“The best predictor about how someone is going to vote in their state legislative election after partisan ID is what they think of the president,” Mr. Rogers said. “You can somewhat infer what is going on in the off year, if the conditions stay similar will happen in the on year.”

Virginia rout

A huge chunk of Democrats’ state gains came in Virginia, where the entire 100-member House was up for re-election in November. Heading into the elections, Republicans held a 66-34 majority, but 15 seats swung blue. They almost lost a 16th, but the vote ended in a tie and the Republican won in a drawing of lots.

Voters elected the first transgender person, and the first open lesbian, as well as the first two Hispanic women and an Asian-American woman to the Statehouse in Richmond.

Arguably the most jaw-dropping results since 2016 have come in ruby-red Oklahoma, where Democrats have captured four seats in Trump country, sending a 26-year-old lesbian mother of three children, a 40-year-old single father and an immigration lawyer to the Statehouse in Oklahoma City.

The fourth Democrat, Karen Gaddis, lost her Senate race in Tulsa County by 19 points in 2016 but got another shot after the Republican who defeated her resigned amid harassment accusations. Mrs. Gaddis squeezed out a 100-vote win in a July special election.

The 76-year-old said the scandal boosted her bid, along with hard work, frustration with the gridlock in the Republican-controlled Legislature and “a lot of anti-Trump sentiment.”

“The energy within the entire state changed after the Trump election because people just came out of the woodwork in response to that election — the Democrats did at least,” Mrs. Gaddis said when asked about the difference between her campaigns in 2016 and 2017. “They were so upset, so disappointed, so chagrined.”

Mr. Buckley said the four victories Democrats have scored in New Hampshire special elections since 2017 are a credit to fielding candidates with strong connections to their communities and to rising levels of Democratic engagement in the wake of Mr. Trump’s win.

“It is really about people waking up and not just assuming the best person will win,” he said.

Mrs. DesMarais said that was what happened to her. While she attributes her victory to the 50 years she has spent developing strong ties in the community, including as executive director of a child center, and to the influx of more liberal-leaning retirees, she said if it were not for Mr. Trump’s rise, she might not be the first Democrat to represent Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, in over a century.

“I have always trusted in the wisdom of the people when they vote, and to see the people of our country vote for something like that scared me,” she said.

“For me, he set the country back,” Mrs. DesMarais said.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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