The president's approval ratings are stuck in the upper 30s, and the party out of power typically does well in off-year elections. But so far, Democrats don't have any big wins to show for it.
Republicans won special congressional elections in Kansas and Montana, and they avoided defeat in the first round of voting in Georgia's Sixth Congressional District. Republicans are favored to win in a coming special election in South Carolina, and it wouldn't be surprising if they survive the second round of voting in Georgia's Sixth on June 20, with the Democrat Jon Ossoff holding a nominal lead in most recent polls.
But even if the Democrats go 0 for 4, these special election results augur well for the party in 2018.
They're consistent with a strong Democratic showing in next year's midterm elections, and they're even better than what one would expect in a so-called wave election, like the one that swept Democrats into power in the House in 2006 and back out in 2010. It's what the Democrats need to win the 24 seats necessary to retake the House next year.
The idea that Democratic losses might foreshadow big wins is a little counterintuitive. After all, Georgia's Sixth is exactly the sort of district that Democrats need to flip to gain the 24 seats needed to retake the House. If they can't do it now, why would they do it next year?
But the focus on wins and losses in these Republican-leaning districts is misplaced, given the Democratic path to victory in the House.
This is going to seem puzzling, but hold on: Yes, the Democrats need to win many races like Georgia's Sixth, but they will probably lose most of them. In fact, Democrats might be the favorite in only six to 10 races in which they're seeking to flip seats, even if they're favored to win the 24 needed to retake the House.
Democrats Have Lots of Chances, Just Not Great Ones
It's useful to think of two groups of vulnerable Republican-held seats in 2018.
First are the districts where Democrats have an even-money-or-better shot to win in a wave election. They're mainly Democratic-tilting districts with weak Republican incumbents or no incumbent at all.
Then there are the districts where Republicans are favored but where Democrats have a realistic shot to win. It's a diverse group, including Democratic-leaning districts with relatively strong Republican incumbents, like Dave Reichert in Washington, and Republican-leaning districts with plausibly weak incumbents, like Tom MacArthur in New Jersey.
The basic problem for Democrats in 2018 — and the source of our puzzle — is that there just aren't many Republican-held seats in the first category of top-tier, even-money-or-better targets. In fact, there might not even be 10 of them.
Here's a rough approximation: There are just seven Republican-held districts in which 1) voters supported the Democratic presidential candidate by a larger percentage than the country did over all in the most recent election and 2) the incumbent Republican didn't win by a landslide — more than 10 points better than the House popular vote.
In the 2010 midterm elections, by contrast, there were 34 Democratic-held districts where similar conditions prevailed for the Republicans.
Obviously, even winning those seven seats would leave Democrats well short of the 24 they need to retake the House. They'll get a few additional top opportunities if more Republican incumbents retire. But to go over the top, Democrats would have to mainly win races where they would be the underdog but where nonetheless they had a realistic chance to win.
The good news for Democrats is that there are a lot of districts in that second category of targets. By our estimates, there are around 60 seats where, on paper, the Democrats would have at least a 10 percent chance to win in a wave election (accounting for a few additional retirements). In such an environment, Democrats would hope to win 20 seats out of those 60, which would put them close to the magic number  to retake the House.
This is exactly how the Democrats pulled it off the last time they took the House, in 2006.
The opportunities available to Democrats then were pretty similar to the opportunities available to them now (though in 2006 the Democrats needed only 15 seats for control). In the end, the Democrats won 31 seats — more than the 24 they need this year.
Democrats didn't make those gains by sweeping the 29 Republican-held districts where John Kerry did better in 2004 than he did nationwide. In fact, Democrats won only 12 of those districts, and just four of the eight districts that fit the aforementioned criteria for where Democrats ought to be favorites.
Instead, they won a significant number of Republican-leaning districts. They nearly won districts in Wyoming and Idaho. Democrats also had some good luck — scandals brought down several Republicans in extremely conservative districts — but many Republicans lost on favorable terrain without any excuse.
Democrats Beating Expectations
Back to 2018. There's a stronger relationship between a district's presidential and House vote today than there was a decade ago, so Democrats will probably do a bit better in relatively blue districts and worse in deeply conservative districts. But the same basic idea applies: Democrats will make most of their gains in the big pool of districts where Republicans are expected to have an edge.
No matter how you cut it, none of this year's special elections clearly fall in the first category of easy targets for the Democrats, even in a wave election. All of these districts voted for President Trump, and each voted for Mitt Romney by double digits in 2012. The Democrats had the advantage of not having to face an incumbent, but that wouldn't be enough to give them the edge.
Every district and contest is different in some way, of course, making it hard for analysts or statistical models to nail down exact expectations. We could argue all day about whether, on paper, Democrats should be considered one-point or 10-point underdogs in an open race in Georgia's Sixth in a wave environment. The debate turns on how much weight to give Mr. Trump's weak 2016 performance — he won by just 1.5 points in that district — compared with the Republican Party's dominant record in the district in recent statewide elections, House contests and prior presidential races.
But even a favorable analysis for the Democrats would probably make the district a true tossup. Let's assume, for the moment, that Mr. Trump's performance is by far the most important measure of the district's partisanship. Even by this aggressive measure, Mr. Ossoff would still be a one-point underdog in a wave election. Indeed, similar races have split almost 50-50 in wave election years, like 2006 or 2010.
The same story applies to all of the special elections that have been held so far this year. By our estimates, the Democratic performance was fully consistent with what we would expect in a wave election. If anything, Democrats have beat expectations.
This is not the way most people think about special elections. Instead, it's common to hold up a district as a litmus test where the challenging party has a good opportunity to break through — the sort of district it will need to retake the House, like Georgia's Sixth.
This way of thinking doesn't work well. Take the special election in California's 50th District in 2006. It was sort of like Georgia's Sixth this year, and it received some of the same hype. It attracted big national coverage and was heralded as the kind of race Democrats needed to win to retake the House. In the end, the Democrats lost by five points but wound up retaking the House.
This intense focus on winning one race is understandable. Georgia's Sixth is exactly the kind of race Democrats will need to win. But no single race is a litmus test for whether the Democrats can retake the House. Democrats need to win seats like Georgia's Sixth, but they don't need to win all of them. They're not even favored to win any one of them.
What Democrats really need is put these races into play. They have done that and more.
Back in January, there wasn't a consensus that Georgia's Sixth would be competitive. Kansas wasn't on the radar; it's not even close to being on the list of 60 seats where Democrats have a 10 percent chance of winning.
In the end, Democrats beat expectations in all three Republican-held contests. The Republican House will be in serious jeopardy if the same story unfolds across the 60 or so races where Republicans are favored but potentially vulnerable in next year's midterm elections.
The Upshot Of The New York Times article by Nate Cohn, June 7, 2017.
June 7, 2017
Addendum. Let's reduce the magic number to take back the House 23, not 24. If you have $5 or more for a race, give it to Jon Ossoff. Official Jon Ossoff website.
Here is one plus minute of the Ossoff- Handel Debate.
Jon Ossoff Turns Karen Handel's Residency Attack Against Her (6/6/17) GA-06 Debate
Here is another. 4 plus minutes.
Jon Ossoff asks Karen Handel about Susan G. Komen
Jon Ossoff and Karen Handel participated in their first live debate on WSB-TV.
There are so many reasons to reject Handel and just as many to support Jon Ossoff, who vows to be Trump's worst fnightmare. Tell everyone in GA, especially CD 6. Early voting now. Election Day June 20. We can win this.