by Chris Walsh
Since President Trump’s inauguration, Democrats and progressives have fixated on winning the presidency in 2020 and taking back Congress in 2018. These are critical goals, but action on these races remains many months in the future. Too often ignored are the races you can impact today: special elections.
Special elections, which are held outside the normal electoral calendar, take place for reasons such as the death of an elected official, the resignation of a lawmaker, and assignment to other public office. There were 70 state legislative and US Congressional special elections in 2016. With 50 governors, 100 senators, 435 congressmen, and 7,383 state legislators in the country, there will always be numerous special elections across the United States
Often overlooked by the media and voters, special elections provide a unique opportunity to flip seats and resist the Trump administration. Special elections are condensed, low-turnout affairs that allow for surprise upsets. In special elections, the most organized local party tends to prevail. By paying attention to these races, Democrats can can begin rebuilding their electoral strength at the state and national level.
low-profile and high-impact
In 2009, America had just elected President Obama, Democrats enjoyed a majority in the House and a supermajority in the Senate, and the path toward a new healthcare system seemed all but guaranteed.
This position of seemingly insurmountable strength was threatened when Ted Kennedy, the Senate’s “liberal lion,” died of brain cancer. His death initiated a special election procedure in Massachusetts.
Democrats expected an easy win. They nominated Martha Coakley, who ran what was widely considered a listless campaign. State Senator Scott Brown, the Republican nominee, campaigned energetically, driving his pickup around the state, shaking hands in the cold outside Fenway Stadium, promising voters that his would be the deciding vote against Obamacare.
The unthinkable happened, and a Republican took Ted Kennedy’s seat in deep-blue Massachusetts. Coakley’s loss cost the Democrats their supermajority in the Senate and complicated their efforts to pass the Affordable Care Act.
"In special elections, the most organized local party tends to prevail."
Coakley and Brown’s contest was high-profile and obviously consequential—but even lower-profile races can have a big impact on the electoral map. Since 1945, there have been 333 special elections in the US House and Senate. 80 of those special election seats flipped from one party to another. In 2010, a windfall midterm for Republicans, 68 of 468 seats in the House and Senate changed party control—a rate of 14.5%, as contrasted with the remarkable 24% flip rate during special elections since 1945.
Because of their low turnout rates and low levels of funding, special elections are far more volatile than general elections. By taking advantage of the special opportunity that special elections present, Democrats can prepare the way for a flipped Congress in 2018 and a flipped presidency in 2020.
how to fight back
Since Election Day, 2016, millions of progressives have sought ways of fighting back against President Trump. Special elections offer us a clear way to act now and diminish Republican control.
On February 25th, Democrat Stephanie Hansen faced off against Republican John Marino for a seat in the Delaware State Senate. Due to our efforts phone banking, knocking on doors, and raising over $130,000, Stephanie won. By electing Stephanie, we protected our Democratic trifecta in Delaware.
In the next few months, there will be crucial races in Georgia and Washington.
On April 18th, Jon Ossoff will vie for Tom Price’s seat in Georgia’s 6th US Congressional district. Hillary lost this district by only 1.5 points. Jon’s appointment to Congress would weaken the Republican majority and embolden House Democrats.
Three seats in Washington’s State Senate will be up for grabs on November 7th. If Democrats win these seats, we will regain our trifecta in the state.
State contests like those in Washington and Delaware have a critical impact on national elections. Republican-engineered gerrymandering and voter suppression originate at the state level and must be fixed at the state level, too. By flipping state legislatures blue, we can improve our chances in all future elections.
At flippable, we draw attention to upcoming special elections around the country. We focus our community’s resources on our target districts, where volunteer hours and dollars can go the furthest. With the support of an informed and energized community, we are providing an electoral means to resist Trump’s administration.
You can be a part of our effort to turn America blue. Sign up for our newsletter and support our candidates. If you live in a district with a special election, vote, volunteer, give, and raise awareness.
If your district doesn’t have an upcoming special election, you can still play an important role. You can help us turn local races into national news by spreading the word on social media. You can donate, phone bank, and canvass in person. You can help others understand the significant impact of special elections.
Every four years we have an election that captures the world’s attention, but every few weeks there’s a special election that goes virtually unnoticed. We can unleash electoral change simply by paying attention and making the most of these key opportunities.
Join us at flippable.org.