With six months to go before the November elections, political commentators are looking for anything upon which they can base their predictions. They got it Tuesday when special elections were held in both Wisconsin and California.
In Wisconsin, Republican Tom Tiffany beat Democrat Tricia Zunker by a wide margin. Tiffany will replace Republican Sean Duffy in Representing that state’s 7th Congressional district. While a Republican victory was expected in this conservative rural district, Democrats would have considered it a good sign for November had their candidate kept the numbers tight at the finish line; as in single digit tight.
Such was not the case however. Tiffany ended up defeating Zunker by a hefty margin: 57% to 42%. These margins are considered good by Republican standards since it was a big win in this district in 2016 that helped President Trump win the state as a whole over Hillary Clinton. A similar big victory will be needed in November if Trump wants to carry the usually left leaning state a second time.
In California, the story is a bit more complicated. As of Wednesday afternoon, Republican Mike Garcia led Democrat Christy Smith 56% to 44%, numbers that aren’t much different from those in Wisconsin. However, in California, mail in voting is set to play a much bigger role than in Wisconsin and there are still enough of these mail in ballots out there to swing these numbers in favor of Smith. With mail in voting usually favoring the Democrat, this is a distinct possibility.
As the numbers came in Tuesday evening, the Garcia team was upbeat, but didn’t declare victory. He said he would not be making a speech Tuesday night but hoped to make one Wednesday night. Obviously any speech that he does make will be done virtually and not in a crowded hall. For the record, neither the Associated Press nor any other prominent news agency call the election for Garcia that night.
One person did call it for Garcia on Tuesday, however. That person was Donald Trump. In deeply blue California, a victory for a Trump ally would be a big deal. While he doesn’t have any realistic hopes of winning the state in November like he does with Wisconsin, a victory here would have been a feather in the President’s cap since he had lost the district to Hillary Clinton by 7 points in 2016.
Assuming Garcia holds on for an eventual victory, he will take up the seat vacated by Katie Hill who left Congress for violating House ethics rules by having a sexual affair with a staffer. Hill herself was only a first term Representative and had won the district in 2018 by defeating incumbent Steve Knight. When the seat opened up again, Knight ran to retake it but had lost to Garcia in the primary.
Under normal circumstances, special congressional elections in a Presidential election year are considered a harbinger of things to come. Circumstances this year, though, have been anything but normal.
The Corona Virus response is complicating many things and I’m not sure anyone is sure how. Yes, we have polls, but the polls at this point in 2016 were notoriously wrong. Additionally, how can you trust any poll in the Trump-era when every news agency has an agenda? Ultimately, it will come down to the response to the virus and who is best able to lead the country to economic recovery. But with fifty states doing fifty different responses, this could be complicated.
States that maintain lockdowns longer are going to see greater resentment as their economies continue to suffer and people continue to see bills mount up. These states will likely see voters with longer memories come November. But who will they blame? Will it be Trump or will it be their individual governors? Ultimately, only time will tell.