In another bad sign for Republicans, Democrats won a special election in a district in New York that’s considered a bellwether. Democrat Pat Ryan defeated Republican Marc Molinaro in a district that has tracked presidential results, with Biden winning it by two points and Trump and Obama winning it before that. Democrats won the seat in the 2018 wave and held it in 2020, though Republicans held it from 2012 to 2016.
Analysts initially believed that the seat would easily go to Republicans in a lower turnout special election with the president’s approvals in the tank. Molinaro tried to make the race a referendum on Biden, inflation, and crime. Ryan has fought to make the race about abortion and protecting democracy. Polls showed Molinaro with a very narrow lead heading into the election and Republicans have significantly outspent Democrats in their attempt to take the seat.
With more than 90% of the vote counted, Ryan leads Molinaro by about 2%. There’s not much way Molinaro can catch him. The seat was vacated by Democrat Antonio Delgado who left Congress to become lieutenant governor, so the balance in the House won’t change.
In another New York special, Republican Joseph Sempolinski only defeated Democrat Max Della Pia by about 6% in a district that the Cook Report called Solid Republican. That race margin should scare Republicans as much as Molinaro’s loss. Five-thirty-eight says it’s an R+15 district.
These races are just two special elections. Alone they don’t predict much, but with the outcome of the Kansas abortion referendum, they’re mounting evidence the political environment has shifted significantly in favor of Democrats. They’re also evidence that abortion is as salient an argument as inflation. Republicans who were confidently predicting a red wave just a few months ago should be seriously reassessing the election cycle. At this point, issues, abortion in particular, are driving this election more than presidential approval ratings.