So it’s tempting to use this high-profile win by Republicans as a major data point in the battle for the majority of the House of Representatives in November. But reading too much into a Republican victory here would be a mistake. Here’s why.
This election is special for a reason. There’s a case to make that this suburban seat could be a bellwether in a normal election, but this is not a normal election. The whole reason there’s an election is because Democrat Katie Hill resigned after nude photos of her were published on a conservative news site and amid allegations that she had relationships with staffers. So right there you have a reason for Republicans to try to argue that the Democratic Party is tainted by scandal, and Garcia did make this an issue in the race.
Plus, special elections don’t typically get as high a turnout as a regular election. It’s May, and voters just aren’t thinking about elections. Also, a lower turnout tends to indicate a Republican victory since that party’s voters are older, less transient and more reliable to vote at all times of the year. Furthermore, that this election is happening in the middle of a pandemic makes the results difficult to assess and extrapolate. Californians are used to mailing their ballots, but neither voters nor candidates are used to virtual campaigning, which is what both candidates had to do in the final weeks.
This election will be fought all over again in just a few months. Garcia just won the right to hold it until November, when the election for the next full term will take place. The sitting lawmaker typically has an advantage in congressional races, but that’s less so for this seat, since Garcia will only have a few months to prove themselves as a capable leader in Congress. Instead, it will probably feel more like the campaign never stopped. Democrats argue that since this district is made up of a majority of minorities, when voter participation increases in November, they’ll have the advantage.
The battle for the House majority isn’t shaping up to be a true battle yet. Going into the 2018 elections, Republicans held 25 districts that voted for Clinton. Democrats took back the House by winning all 22 of those and then some, winning 40 seats in all.
All 435 House seats are up for election again, but this time Democrats have the advantage of incumbency in most of the 20 or so competitive races. And Democrats believe that in 2018, they won over coalitions that make it hard for Republicans to make inroads in that majority, such as suburban women.
Six months out, the national mood favors Democrats. Even before the coronavirus, House Democrats were leading in a key indicator of which party will control the majority, the generic ballot question, by about the same margin as they did in 2018 when they took back the House. (That question gets at the partisanship that drives so much voting in America today by asking: Would you rather elect a Democrat or Republican, regardless of their names and backgrounds?)
After the coronavirus and President Trump’s documented failures to respond to early warnings about it, that hill could get much harder to climb for Republicans. Trump consistently gets negative ratings from voters for his response to the virus, and some strategists think it’s put the Republican-controlled Senate in play for Democrats by making races in typically Republican states such as Georgia reachable for Democrats. It’s very likely that as goes Trump, so go the Senate and many competitive House races.
None of that is to say that Democrats will win this seat even after losing it this week. But there are plenty of reasons to avoid reading too much into a Republican victory.