After suffering a series of defeats in Trump-era special elections, Republicans say they’ve found their footing after notching two victories this week, including in California.
The results provided a snapshot of the political landscape less than six months before voters will decide whether to reelect President Trump and whether Republicans or Democrats will control Congress.
On Wednesday, the GOP took a victory lap, claiming wins in Wisconsin’s 7th congressional district and in northern Los Angeles County’s 25th congressional district, where Republican Mike Garcia was declared a 56%-44% winner over Democrat Christy Smith.
“Last night’s results took a flamethrower to Democrats’ absurd narrative that they have any chance of picking up seats,” said Michael McAdams, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “Voters made it crystal clear they want nothing to do with Democrats’ socialist agenda of raising taxes and abolishing private health insurance, which is the exact opposite of what House Democrats promised voters in 2018.”
Mr. Garcia, a former Navy fighter pilot, will serve the remainder of Rep. Katie Hill’s first term.
Ms. Hill was billed as a budding star when she won the seat as part of the Democratic takeover of the House in 2018.
But everything unraveled for Ms. Hill last year after compromising photos and purported text messages from her to a campaign staffer were published online.
The scandal led to an ethics complaint and her resignation last year.
Ms. Hill blamed political operatives and her ex-husband for weaponizing explicit private photos against her.
Mr. Garcia’s victory marks a shift from 2016, when Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton carried the district by 7 points over Mr. Trump.
“The outcome … should be of some concern to the Democrats, but that it’s not necessarily a major victory for the Republicans,” said Louis DeSipio, a political science professor at the University of California, Irvine.
Mr. DeSipio said the district has been trending blue, but said it is not surprising that Democrats struggled with turnout given it is an off-cycle election and there is a pandemic.
“The Republicans will certainly get some short-term bragging rights,” he said. “The challenge that he and the Republicans will face, however, is that he will need to win again in November with an electorate that will likely be more Democratic.”
Meanwhile, the seat in Wisconsin — a state that could determine the presidential race this fall — opened up after GOP Rep. Sean Duffy resigned, citing family health matters.
Republican Tom Tiffany defeated Tricia Zunker by a 57%-42.8% margin in the district, which Mr. Trump carried by 20 points over Mrs. Clinton.
“This was a good win for the GOP here but I think it would be a mistake to read too much into it,” said Brian Fraley, a Wisconsin-based Republican strategist.
Mr. Fraley said Mr. Tiffany was a good fit for the district and said the margin of victory was widely expected.
“Wisconsin is going to be a battleground this year with a razor-thin margin,” he said. “Why? Something I’ve not seen pre-Trump. Among white Wisconsin voters, it’s a battle between Joe Lunchpail and Nancy Soccermom.”
A Marquette University poll released this week found presumed Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden leading Mr. Trump by a 4-point margin, and that the support split sharply along gender lines.
Mr. Biden led Mr. Trump among women voters by 22 points, and Mr. Trump led Mr. Biden among men by 18 points.
The races Tuesday were the first to play out since Tara Reade accused Mr. Biden of sexually assaulting her in 1993.
Mr. Biden denies the charge, which the GOP has channeled into attacks against down-ticket Democrats.