Republicans had high hopes heading into Tuesday night. While it was widely expected Republicans would easily carry the open 23rd CD a tightly contested battle was being fought in the 19th. Now, the usual caveats are in order here. First, a special election is just that, special. Secondly, short of a single special election in 2011 in Jewish heavy Brooklyn, Republicans have a terrible track record in the state’s special elections. Lastly, this district won’t even exist in three or so months due to redistricting (in fact, this is the last time this district will vote using these lines).
That said, this race should serve as a wake – up call to Republicans not to take 2022 for granted. While I do believe Republicans are still heavy favorites to take the House in November and smaller favorites for the Senate, it is a sign party leadership and candidates need to get their act together and start hammering home messages on education, taxes, address abortion attacks head on, and tie Democrats to Biden.
Indeed, polls still show the majority of voters care more about the economy than abortion by a wide margin. What is striking about this race is not that Republicans lost, but rather how they lost.
As we have seen in NE 1 and MN – 1, while Democratic turnout has held steady relative to prior midterms GOP turnout in outlying counties has dropped off. This explains how Ryan could win a mere two counties in the state (Ulster and Columbia) but they gave him an 11,000 vote cushion he used to secure victory in a race which saw less than half the turnout of the 2018 midterm.
Part of what is going on is Republicans are bleeding college educated whites and they are more likely to show up in special elections which benefits Democrats. Additionally, Republicans may simply not be communicating the right message to their voters. Keep in mind down South the same party’s candidates were sweeping School Board Races in freaking Miami Dade County. That’s a less red location than NY – 19 and should tell Republicans focusing on the economy is great but also to lean into cultural issues to motivate their base.
Now, that said, the above are all fair caveats. But it should tell Republicans they need to work harder to win this November. Data indicates Republicans should do well in Hispanic locales relative to historical results but they need to continue to motivate blue collar voters and win back college educated whites. Address the attacks on abortion head on and explain why the govt spending trillions on student debt relief and EV’s won’t help.
The one good thing which does indicate this might not be a trend as much as NE – 1 and MN -1 would indicate is NY Republicans have a terrible track record in special elections. We are still waiting on results from Alaska’s At Large Contest though the first round of results indicate Republicans won about 60 percent of votes and it is hard to see 20 percent or more of those 1st place Republican votes swinging to the Democrat.
Lastly, 2014, 16 and 2020 continue to teach us the polls tend not to catch major movement to the GOP until very late. In 14, the GOP did not establish a clear lead on the ballot until October. In Virginia, just last year, Youngkin did not lead in a single poll until a week in a half before the election.
Republicans can learn a lot from this election. They should not panic, but double down, fine – tune their message and hammer it home until November expecting the polls to reward them. If the electorate does not I will eat crow. But my guess remains it will. We will see.