The Democratic Party is in the midst of an astonishing run over the last 14 months, flipping more than three dozen state legislative seats from GOP control in what members of the party say is the beginning of a blue wave they predict will flood Congress in November.
Democrats flipped 14 state House or Senate seats in special elections in 2017 and have already flipped four more in 2018. In that time, the GOP has flipped just three seats its way.
Add in the special election for the Senate seat from Alabama, which a Democrat won, and then the regular elections in November, where Democrats netted 19 seats in elections in the Virginia House and New Jersey House and Senate, and the total is even more striking.
“What we’re seeing is the Democratic base really being invigorated by not being represented,” said John Mahoney, policy associate at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The streak is unlike anything this decade. Before 2017, the biggest net swing in special state legislative elections in any one year had been three. In 2017, Democrats netted 11 seats, according to Ballotpedia.org.
Some of the victories have come in deep red territory, including last week’s Kentucky House special election, where Democrat Linda Belcher trounced her GOP opponent in a district President Trump won by nearly 50 points in 2016.
The Democratic National Committee credits a renewed commitment to local races, saying they’ve engaged voters and remain in constant contact with local party leaders.
“At the new DNC, there are no more off years. From now until November, there is an election every Tuesday across the country,” said Sabrina Singh, DNC deputy communications director.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said she isn’t that concerned about the pattern of these races, calling the Kentucky race an “anomaly.”
“I think when you win 900 legislative seats under the term of Barack Obama you’re going to lose some here and there, and they’re being given outweighed credibility and attention,” Mrs. McDaniel said Friday on Fox News.
She did say fundraising for the 2018 races has been a top priority and part of that involves harnessing the enthusiasm from the 2016 race. Republicans have raised $144.9 million for the upcoming cycle to date.
President Trump urged voters at the Conservative Political Action Committee to stay engaged and not become complacent after last year’s elections.
“The great enthusiasm — you know you’re sitting back you’re watching television, ah, maybe I don’t have to vote today — we just won the presidency, and then we get clobbered and we can’t let that happen. We get clobbered in ’18 and we can’t let that happen,” Mr. Trump told the crowd, drawing cheers.
Vice President Mike Pence also warned attendees at the event that Democrats are motivated to win the majority back, and Republicans cannot let their guard down.
“It’s up to us to stand up to them and stand up for the American people and the progress that we’ve made,” Mr. Pence said. “But the other side is motivated. They’re mobilized.”
One activist seemed to confirm concerns that Republicans aren’t as motivated after strong election performances in the past two midterm cycles.
“We won the House, we won the Senate, we won The White House, so what’s the natural reaction when you win everything? Go back and sit on the coach, and think everything is going to be hunky dory,” said William Temple, a longtime activist from Georgia who is known for dressing up in revolutionary regalia at conservative gatherings.
He said he’s not worried about losing the majorities, however, because of Mr. Trump’s strength with the electorate, particularly among Christian voters.
“But there is now this sense that we can kind of kick back,” Mr. Temple said. “Getting everybody together for a march on Washington or something like that won’t happen. Those things happen when you are about to fall off the cliff.”
• Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.
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