One of the races, in California’s 34th Congressional District, was won by a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Democratic district. In the remaining 10 special elections, where Republicans were defending seats, eight were won by Republicans.
The media narrative is that Democrats’ “success” in making some of these races close has broader implications for the November midterms. Not so. Only in Alabama, where Doug Jones beat flawed candidate Roy Moore, and in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, where Conor Lamb beat Rick Saccone, can Democrats claim true victories.
Special elections are a minority party's dream come true. They are all about turnout, which poses a challenge given that they are held at off-cycle times, and involve open seats. Incumbents usually have enormous advantages of money, name identification and organization. However, since the 2016 election, the advantage was negated in five of the 11 special elections. These were held to replace Cabinet appointees in the Trump administration, all of whom had strong support in their home states and districts: Jeff Sessions, Mick Mulvaney, Tom Price, Mike Pompeo and Ryan Zinke.
Another factor in the closeness of some of the 11 special elections stems from the typically low turnout, which gives third-party candidates more influence. In the PA-18 race, for example, Lamb’s surprise victory was partially due to a right-of-center Libertarian candidate who got 1,379 votes -- a potentially pivotal number since Saccone lost by just 627 votes. In Tuesday’s OH-12 election, Green Party candidate Joe Manchik drew 1,127 votes, a total that may have prevented the mandatory recount for Democrat Danny O'Connor, who trails Troy Balderson by fewer than 2,000 votes.