The special House election held Tuesday in Ohio's 12th District headlined an evening that also featured primary contests in Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, and Washington. Sifting through the results for information about the contemporary political landscape reveals confirmation of three existing trends, plus one more unusual development. So, three non-surprises and one surprise—adding up to a picture of "(mostly) more of the same":
1. The Ohio election received considerable national media coverage, just like previous special congressional elections held over the past year or so in Georgia, Alabama, and Pennsylvania. In all four of these contests, a district or state that was ordinarily a Republican stronghold produced a highly competitive and closely divided race for the first time in many years. In Alabama and Pennsylvania, Democrats eked out a narrow win; in Georgia and (apparently, barring a surprise twist) Ohio, Republicans managed to barely hang on. Thus, the Ohio results can be added to the existing set of clues that the national electoral environment has shifted substantially in the Democrats' favor since Donald Trump became president, but they don't themselves hold much independent importance. Given the results of previous special elections, recent polling data, and campaign fundraising totals, there was already more than enough reason to believe that Democrats are poised to gain a substantial number of House seats in November—unless the prevailing political winds shift dramatically before then.
2. The remarkable success of female candidates in Democratic primaries continues to be the biggest electoral story of the year. Women won the Democratic nomination for governor in Kansas and Michigan last night, will inherit the safely Democratic House seat in Michigan held for 53 years by ex-Rep. John Conyers, and will advance to face Republicans this November in the competitive districts of MI-07, MI-08, MI-11, WA-03, WA-05, and (probably) WA-08. Again, these results are hardly a surprise given the outcome of previous primaries, but they extend what has become an extraordinarily important evolution in the internal dynamics of the Democratic Party.
3. While some corners of the political media continue to anticipate an ideologically purist rebellion within Democratic ranks led by the supporters of Bernie Sanders in 2016—expectations that were given a shot of rocket fuel after the upset victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a New York House primary last June—there continues to be little evidence of a consistent national trend in this direction. Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez both endorsed Abdul El-Sayed for governor of Michigan, who finished a distant second in the primary on Tuesday, and Ocasio-Cortez also personally campaigned for Cori Bush, who challenged veteran Democratic incumbent Lacy Clay in the St. Louis-based MO-01 seat but fell well short of victory. (Honest Graft maintains a long-standing skeptical stance toward claims of an imminent left-wing revolution within Democratic politics, for reasons that have been set forth at greater length in previous posts.) To be sure, two other key developments on Tuesday in Missouri—the rejection of a state "right to work" law via ballot referendum and the defeat of a veteran St. Louis County prosecutor in the wake of the Ferguson protests—can be interpreted as liberal victories, but they also both fit comfortably within our own view of the Democratic Party as primarily advancing the interests of its social group coalition.
4. The biggest surprise of the night occurred on the Republican side, where Donald Trump's public endorsement of Kris Kobach in the Kansas GOP gubernatorial primary did not lift Kobach to a comfortable victory over incumbent governor Jeff Colyer. (As I write this, the vote count is neck and neck; Kobach may win, but he can hope for a slim advantage at best.) After Trump intervened in other primaries—most recently, for governor of Georgia—on behalf of candidates who cruised to easy victories, it appeared that he enjoyed an impressive kingmaking power due to his personal popularity among the Republican electorate. But the president may learn why his predecessors have normally been reluctant to wade into internal party contests—if your anointed candidate struggles, it makes you look weak, politically speaking. And Donald Trump is not a man who likes to look weak.