Arizona's Democratic Loss Still Looks Like a Win

(Bloomberg View) -- Democrats are giddy after Tuesday's special elections. They didn't quite pull off the upset in the Arizona special, but in a seat in which experts were saying anything over 41 percent of the vote for Democrat Hiral Tipirneni was a good sign for the party, she took a bit better than 47 percent of the vote

Meanwhile, Democrats did well in a series of New York state legislative specials, including picking up one Assembly seat in Long Island. Including both state legislative and congressional special elections, Democrats are outperforming Hillary Clinton by an average of about 17 percentage points in 2018, and by about 12 percentage points over the course of the 2017-2018 cycle. 

The Arizona race, in particular, was cheering to Democrats because none of the caveats that might have applied to previous special elections were in play: The Republican candidate, new member of the House Debbie Lesko, was perfectly fine; the Democratic candidate wasn't considered anything special; the district doesn't appear to be an outlier in any way.

But there's still plenty of time until November. Even if Democrats are favored to win a House majority at this point, it's by a slim margin.

On the other hand? Every indicator -- presidential approval, the generic ballot, special elections -- is pointing in the same direction. 

I've been saying for a while that we are on track for a unified government after the 2020 election. Even if Democrats fall short in 2018 in Congress, a presidential win for the party in 2020 almost certainly would get them the rest of the way to majorities in both chambers. If President Donald Trump does win re-election, then Republicans would regain their majorities, even if Democrats do well this year. I have to say, however, that I now see a real possibility that Democrats could do so well in the House this year that their new majority might even survive a presidential loss in two years. 

The other thing that seems increasingly plausible? That one or more seemingly safe statewide Republican candidates will suffer an upset no one sees coming, and maybe even one that no one sees coming up until Election Day, in part because there's often very little polling in what appear to be noncompetitive elections. I've seen some analysis of House Republicans who could fall victim to surprise losses. Perhaps there's a senator or governor out there who is similarly vulnerable. Perhaps there are a few of them.

Again, that won't happen if Republicans rally and wind up with relatively modest losses. But we're at the point where speculating about what a real Democratic landslide would look like isn't just a nightmare or wishful thinking, depending on one's point of view.

1. Tom Wong at the Monkey Cage on "sanctuary cities." 

2. Dan Drezner isn't impressed with some of the former Trump foreign policy team

3. Greg Sargent reminds us that Trump's unpopularity is an extremely important, and still underreported, story. 

4. My Bloomberg View colleague Danielle DiMartino Booth makes the case that stagflation may be on the way

5. And Kevin Drum listens to Trump explain his Syria policy. Easy to see why he's not holding any full-scale news conferences. And that doesn't even get to his Ronny Jackson answer, in which he more or less asked his nominee to withdraw, only to decide later to stick with him -- thus guaranteeing a continued period of lousy stories in the news media and a lot of unhappy senators who clearly don't want to carry water on this one. All that after first signaling that he wasn't firmly committed to the fight he's now asking for. It's textbook bad presidenting. And despite that, it's easy to make a case that the Syria answer was even worse.

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Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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