2017 Special Elections Update


To:                     Interested Parties
From:               Justin Richards, RSLC Political Director
Subject:           2017 Special Elections Update
Date:                 March 1, 2017

Since Election Day last November when Republicans claimed the White House, Congress and modern highs in state-level control, high-profile Democrats including Eric Holder and David Brock have said the way to rebuild is through the states. The Democrat resistance may be generating a lot of noise in Washington, D.C., but so far in 2017, it has shown little impact on elections in the states.

Even with hefty financial investments and high profile Democrats lending star power to state-level candidates, Republicans won control of every district they previously held across multiple states that Democrats have won in the last three or more presidential elections, including as recently as yesterday in Connecticut.

National Democrats first set their sights on two early January special elections in Virginia, a state won by the Democrat in the last three presidential elections. In House District 85, where the 2016 presidential results were evenly split, national liberal groups coordinated 11,392 donations of $100 or less into the Democrat campaign, yet Republican Rocky Holcomb won by a comfortable six points to maintain a strong 66-34 majority as we approach their 2017 election cycle.

With chamber control at stake, the same results have occurred in the Virginia state Senate, a Republican majority despite a redistricting map advanced by Democrats.  Governor Terry McAuliffe, a top Hillary Clinton supporter, helped the Democrat campaign spend 42 percent more than the Republican campaign, yet the Republican won by 13.5 percent.

In Minnesota, Democrats went all-in to flip House District 32B. Governor Mark Dayton, U.S. Senator Al Franken and Congressman Rick Nolan all participated in door knocking events to support the Democrat candidate.  Republican Anne Neu still managed a comfortable six-point win. Neu’s victory grows the Republican caucus in the chamber to 77, the largest GOP majority after a presidential cycle in state history.

Just last night, Republicans were able to hold Connecticut Senate District 32 in suburban Waterbury. Despite over $53,000 spent by a liberal California Super PAC, Republican state Rep. Eric Berthel was elected to the state Senate by 12 points. Berthel’s win preserves split control in the Senate and gives Republicans a chance next year to win outright control of the chamber for the first time since 1996, after gaining three seats in November.

Democrats did preserve a one-seat majority in the Delaware state Senate, a chamber they have controlled since 1972, by maintaining control of an open-Democrat seat.  Republicans were only that close because they defeated the Senate President Pro Tempore in November.  High profile surrogates Joe Biden, Martin O’Malley and both current U.S. Senators campaigned for the Democrat candidate.  In the end, spending approximately $1 million, or 20 times more than the typical Delaware state Senate race, ensured a victory margin that mirrored the margin Obama/Biden won the district in 2012.

Three states, Virginia, Minnesota and Connecticut, Democrats have dominated at the federal level for more than a decade continue to elect a new generation of Republican state leaders that cements Republican control.  It’s clear Democrats have turned their focus and resources to rebuilding in the states, but after the first few weeks of their resistance, they have nothing new to show for it.