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Republicans Are 4-0 Defending Seats, but Could Still Be in Trouble

In each of the contested special elections, Democrats performed better than they had in years

Karen Handel gives her victory speech Tuesday night in Georgia after winning the 6th District special election. (Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
Karen Handel gives her victory speech Tuesday night in Georgia after winning the 6th District special election. (Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Wednesday was a day for Republicans to rest easy. After winning the Georgia and South Carolina special elections Tuesday, the party avoided losing any congressional seats vacated by members who entered President Donald Trump’s administration.

But it’s not all good news for the GOP (or bad news for Democrats). In each of the four races where Republicans were defending seats — Kansas’ 4th, Montana’s at large seat, South Carolina’s 5th and Georgia’s 6th — Democrats did better than they had in any of those districts’ congressional elections since at least 2010.

In fact, in almost all these GOP stronghold races, Democrats did even better than in 2006 and 2008 — the last time voters sent Democratic majorities to the House. The only exception was South Carolina, where the 5th District elected Democrats in 2006 and 2008.

None of this on its own is enough to declare that the Republican House majority is done for in 2018. As Roll Call election analyst Nathan L. Gonzales put it: “The House majority was at risk before the Georgia special election and it’s at risk after the Georgia special election.” 

The biggest drop off for Republicans came in Kansas, where now-CIA director Mike Pompeo won re-election with 62 percent of the vote last year. His replacement, Republican Rep. Ron Estes, won only 52 percent in his special election.

[Video: History and Reality Suggest 2018 Will Be Good for Democrats]

Montana, where the Republican candidate assaulted a reporter the day before the election, was the race where Republicans came closest to their 2016 vote level. GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte, sworn in Wednesday, picked up half of the state’s vote total on special election day — six points short of what his predecessor earned last year.

The chart below shows how congressional candidates have performed in these four districts, as well as the presidential election results in them.

A special election in California also took place so far this year but was not included in the above chart since it was previously a Democratic seat and the runoff was between two Democrats. Jimmy Gomez won that seat vacated by Xavier Becerra who left to become the state’s attorney general.

Another special election is teed up in Utah this summer, anticipating the June 30 departure of House Oversight and Government Reform chairman, Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated a portion of Gianforte’s incident with a reporter. He was convicted of assaulting a reporter, but not arrested.

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