Democrats' stellar showings in two special elections Tuesday once again cast doubt on the neck-and-neck national polling of a potential rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.
In New Hampshire's state House District Rockingham 1, Democrat Hal Rafter of Nottingham beat Republican James Guzofski of Northwood, 55.9% to 44.1%. Not only did Rafter flip the seat, erasing the GOP majority in the chamber, he also outperformed Biden's 2020 showing in the district by a dozen points, according to Daily Kos Elections tracking.
Likewise, Pennsylvania Democrat Lindsay Powell crushed her Republican rival, Erin Connolly Autenreith, in the race to represent State House District 21, claiming an open seat and preserving her party's majority status in the state’s House of Representatives.
Though results hadn't been finalized as of this writing, Powell also appears poised to overperform Biden's 23-point margin from 2020 in the Democratic-leaning seat. (Update: Powell outperformed Biden by 7 points in the district.)
As it stands, even without the final House District 21 results, Democrats have overperformed Biden by an average of 7.6% in roughly two dozen special elections this year. And as we know from watching Democrats repeatedly overperform in a series of 2022 special elections, the momentum can carry forward right into Election Day, making a liar out of preelection analysis (and sometimes polling), just like it did last November.
That special-election momentum, consistently moving in Democrats' direction, is a cautionary caveat to a spate of recent national polls showing Biden and Trump effectively tied:
YouGov/Yahoo News (Sept 14-18): Biden 44%, Trump 44%
Morning Consult (Sept. 15-17): Biden 42%, Trump 42%
YouGov/CBS News (Sept 12-15): Biden 49%, Trump 50%
Last week, The New York Times' Nate Cohn parsed out whether roughly even national polling suggested a stronger hand for one of the two candidates at this early juncture in the cycle.
With plenty of caveats, Cohn concluded it played more favorably for Biden at this point. He argued that while Biden appeared to be losing ground with nonwhite voters in states he would clearly win, such as California and New York, he also appeared to be gaining ground with white voters in crucial battleground states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Sure enough, the most recent polling conducted by reputable outfits in those states gives Biden an edge.
Michigan, Susquehanna Polling & Research (Sept. 7-12): Biden 46%, Trump 43%
Pennsylvania, Franklin & Marshall College (Aug. 9-20): Biden 42%, Trump 40%
Wisconsin, Marquette Law School (June 8-13): Biden 52%, Trump 43% (***This poll is old/looks like an outlier in a 50-50 state)
In national polling, Trump's modest gains among nonwhite voters are giving him a boost against Biden, but it's not a boost that necessarily translates to the Electoral College and the battleground states that will decide the election.
"[A]t this point," Cohn concluded, "another large Trump Electoral College advantage cannot be assumed. At the very least, tied national polls today don’t mean Mr. Trump leads in the states likeliest to decide the presidency."
Still, the most telling data points that discern the national mood typically tend to come from special elections, and Democrats continue to heavily outperform Biden's baseline in 2020. It's not predictive, but Democrats can feel good about being on the right side of that equation at this early stage in the 2024 cycle.
We did it! And it's all thanks to Molech! We're devoting this week's episode of "The Downballot" to giving praise to the dark god himself after New Hampshire Democrat Hal Rafter won a critical special election over Republican Jim Guzofski, the loony toons pastor who once ranted that liberals make "blood sacrifices to their god Molech." Democrats are now just one seat away from erasing the GOP's majority in the state House and should feel good about their chances in the Granite State next year. Republicans, meanwhile, can only stew bitterly that they lack the grassroots fundraising energy provided by Daily Kos, which endorsed Rafter and raised the bulk of his campaign funds via small donations.