Dems look to keep up momentum in upcoming special elections

Dems look to keep up momentum in upcoming special elections
© iStock

Republicans and Democrats will face off a few more times in special elections this year, following a special election schedule that has seen Democrats make gains in Republican districts.

Democrats have substantially improved on their 2016 presidential margins in almost all of the major special elections this cycle, flipping seats in Pennsylvania and Alabama. 

Strong Democratic showings in red districts — even when the Democrat in the race didn’t actually win — have added to the evidence that a Democratic midterm wave could be building.


Democrats outperformed again in Arizona’s special election on Tuesday, with the losing Democratic candidate still improving on Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFarrow: Clinton staff raised concerns over Weinstein reporting Perry says Trump directed him to discuss Ukraine with Giuliani: report The Memo: Once the front-runner, Biden now vulnerable MORE’s 2016 showing in the district by 15 points. 

Tough battles await in some of special elections, both in primaries and general elections. Here’s a look at how the last the last special elections left on the calendar stand right now.

Ohio’s 12th District

The race to replace former Rep. Pat TiberiPatrick (Pat) Joseph TiberiOhio New Members 2019 Many authors of GOP tax law will not be returning to Congress GOP Rep. Balderson holds onto seat in Ohio MORE (R) in the suburban Columbus district is shaping up to be a fight, even in a district President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocratic senator rips Trump's 'let them fight' remarks: 'Enough is enough' Warren warns Facebook may help reelect Trump 'and profit off of it' Trump touts Turkey cease-fire: 'Sometimes you have to let them fight' MORE won by 11 points in 2016. The well-educated and wealthy district is home to the kind of voters Democrats need to flip the House — voters who have already helped propel Democrats in other elections earlier this year.

The race for the GOP nomination is crowded, throwing more uncertainty into the race.

Tiberi has backed state Sen. Troy Balderson, the top fundraiser in the race. The former congressman is spending $150,000 on an ad buy to boost Balderson, and the Republican Main Street Partnership’s super PAC is spending another $250,000.

Liberty County Trustee Melanie Leneghan, backed by conservative Ohio Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanTestimony from GOP diplomat complicates Trump defense The Hill's Morning Report - Tempers boil over at the White House Former Ukraine envoy unexpectedly returns to Capitol Hill MORE, is the beneficiary of a $200,000 advertising campaign by the House Freedom Action super PAC as she looks to run from the right.

Meanwhile, Delaware County Prosecutor Carol O’Brien has the backing of state Auditor Dave Yost, while state Sen. Kevin Bacon has been endorsed by the Franklin County GOP.

The Democratic side features two main candidates — Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor, who has the backing of the Franklin County Democrats and prominent local members of Congress, and former Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott, who has argued Democrats are spending too much time emphasizing social issues over jobs.

Voters will have two primaries on May 8 — one for the August special election to fill the remainder of Tiberi’s term, and another for the November election for the new 2019-20 term.

Pennsylvania’s 15th District

Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentOvernight Health Care — Presented by Better Medicare Alliance — Federal judge blocks Trump from detaining migrant children indefinitely | Health officials tie vaping-related illnesses to 'Dank Vapes' brand | Trump to deliver health care speech in Florida The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller testimony gives Trump a boost as Dems ponder next steps The Hill's 12:30 Report: Muller testimony dominates Washington MORE’s (R) recent decision to resign in May, rather than retire at the end of the year, sets the stage for another special election showdown in Pennsylvania.

The special election timeline won’t be set until Dent officially retires. Whenever it happens, though, a special election will take place under the old congressional lines, which have since been ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court. That race will be competitive, even though Trump won the seat by 8 points. 

The normal primary and general election calendar, on the other hand, will run under new lines. That means voters in the old 15th District will be tasked once more with filling the old seat, then voting under the new map shortly after. The new district lines are far more liberal than the old ones, and Cook Political Report rates the new race as Democratic-leaning. 

With the timeline in flux, it’s also unclear who will be able to mount a campaign. But candidates won’t have to run a full primary race, as the political parties will nominate their own candidates at internal conventions.

To ease the burden of a compressed campaign schedule, it’s possible that the parties nominate whoever wins the May primary for the new 7th Congressional District, which includes most of the old 15th District.

Texas’s 27th District

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Tuesday called for an emergency special election on June 30 to replace former Rep. Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdMembers spar over sexual harassment training deadline Female Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations Lawmaker seeks to ban ex-members from lobbying until sexual harassment settlements repaid MORE (R), who abruptly resigned in the face of a House Ethics Committee investigation into harassment allegations.

Since Farenthold had previously announced he wouldn’t run for another term, candidates are already locked in a primary ahead of Election Day.

Bech Bruun, a former state water official backed by former Gov. Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryTrump confirms Rick Perry to step down as Energy secretary Overnight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule Perry notified Trump he will resign: reports MORE (R), will face Michael Cloud, a member of the state GOP executive committee, in a May primary. While Republicans are heavily favored in the district, which Trump won by 24 points, the Democratic nominee will be either former congressional aide Eric Holguin or former peace officer Raul Barrera.

The special election field isn’t set yet, but candidates will run in a “jungle primary,” a nonpartisan contest that includes all of the candidates. If no candidate surpasses 50 percent, the top two candidates, regardless of party, will move on to a runoff.

Michigan’s 13th District

Voters in the 13th District haven’t had a competitive race since former Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersEXCLUSIVE: Trump on reparations: 'I don't see it happening' McConnell: Reparations aren't 'a good idea' This week: Democrats move funding bills as caps deal remains elusive MORE Jr. won the seat in 1965. But Conyers’s resignation, sparked by accusations of sexual harassment, has opened the seat up for a number of politicians hoping to replace Conyers.

The special election isn’t until Election Day in November, but candidates are already well into campaigning for this deep-blue district.

State Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who would be the first Muslim woman elected to Congress if she wins, is far ahead in fundraising. Tlaib is leaning hard into calls for Trump’s impeachment, adding that she likely won’t back House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocratic senator rips Trump's 'let them fight' remarks: 'Enough is enough' Trump touts Turkey cease-fire: 'Sometimes you have to let them fight' Mattis responds to Trump criticism: 'I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals' MORE (D-Calif.) for a leadership role.

Tlaib has plenty of competition, however. Two of Conyers’s relatives are running — his son, political newcomer John Conyers III, and Conyers’s great-nephew, state Sen. Ian Conyers — and will benefit from the family name.

Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones is also expected to be a strong candidate, with an endorsement from Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. Westland Mayor Bill Wild could shake things up by running from the suburbs, while the other candidates split the city vote.

Mississippi Senate special election

Republicans are scrambling to block controversial state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) as he looks to replace Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranBiden has a lot at stake in first debate The Hill's Morning Report — Trump turns the page back to Mueller probe Trump praises Thad Cochran: 'A real senator with incredible values' MORE (R), who resigned in April over health issues.

The Republican establishment would far prefer a primary win from Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, the former state agriculture commissioner appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant (R) to replace Cochran. With last year’s Senate special election loss in Alabama still weighing on their minds, many Republicans see Hyde-Smith as the safer choice — especially considering the baggage McDaniel carries from his bruising 2014 primary fight with Cochran.

McDaniel’s fundraising has been lackluster so far — he raised just $154,000 in the first month of his Senate bid. But he’s planning an aggressive effort to tar Hyde-Smith as a “Republican in name only,” positioning himself as the only true option for conservatives.

Like Texas’s special elections, Mississippi also has a “jungle primary.” Former Rep. Mike Espy is the top Democrat running, but will likely split votes with Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton.  

Minnesota Senate special election

Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenTake Trump literally and seriously in Minnesota Ninth woman accuses Al Franken of inappropriate contact Al Franken to host SiriusXM radio show MORE’s (D) resignation after multiple accusations of sexual misconduct opened the door for Tina SmithTina Flint SmithOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs Senate confirms Trump's Air Force secretary pick Our hidden infrastructure crisis: School cafeterias MORE to jump to federal office.

Gov. Mark Dayton (D) appointed Smith, his lieutenant governor and former top aide, to the Senate late last year. While there had been chatter about Smith as a caretaker pick who wouldn’t run again, she immediately cast that notion aside after her appointment and declared that she would run to keep the seat.

State Sen. Karin Housley is Smith’s top primary competition. She’s served in the state Senate since 2013, also running her own real estate business, and is married to the head coach of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabers.

Smith is dominating the fundraising battle, and the Nov. 8 race is seen as the Democrats to lose — especially in a midterm climate hardly favorable to Republicans.

But Republicans now stand to benefit from former Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s (R) bid to retake the governorship, hoping that a tighter race for governor drives Republicans to the polls for their Senate candidate, too.


--This article was updated on April 27 to clarify the Democrats in the Mississippi race.