As Democrats across the country enjoyed a string of electoral successes on Tuesday night, they were joined by their compatriots in New Hampshire, who saw one of their own, former Nashua Alderman Marc Plamondon, romp in the special election in the closely divided state House. Plamondon's margin stands out not just because he far outperformed other Democratic candidates in his district, but because it's yet one more sign that Democrats are well-positioned to flip a Republican-held House seat in an upcoming special—a turn of events that would yield an exact tie in the 400-member chamber.
While the Hillsborough County district Plamondon successfully defended is safely blue, his 72-28 win amounts to a 43-point margin of victory. Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, by contrast, both carried the same turf by 27 points, meaning Plamondon ran 16 points ahead of them. In New Hampshire's gigantic House, districts are very small, and so total turnout was as well—just around 200 votes—so it's wise not to read too much into a single data point. But fortunately, we have more.
Most notably, Democratic state Rep. Chuck Grassie prevailed in a do-over race in February after his November election ended in an exact tie. In that heavily scrutinized and very expensive rematch in Strafford County, Grassie won by 12 points—a huge improvement, needless to say, over his previous deadlock, but also over Biden's 7-point margin. And we've seen that pattern repeated in special elections nationwide this year: In aggregate, Democrats are running almost 7 points ahead of the 2020 presidential results in 18 total specials so far.
That brings us to the forthcoming special election in Rockingham County, which is nestled along New Hampshire's coast, right between Strafford and Hillsborough counties. Republican state Rep. Benjamin Bartlett resigned from the county's 1st District last month, and an election to fill his vacant seat is likely to take place in August or September.
That district (which locals often refer to by the two towns it encompasses, Northwood and Nottingham) is very swingy. Donald Trump carried it by less than a point in 2020, 49.1 to 48.7, and the trends appear to be favorable, since his margin in 2016 was more than 8 points. And according to one analyst, Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan actually won it by 2 points last year while Democrats fell just 10 votes shy of securing one of the district's three seats. (Only one seat will be up in the expected special.)
Given the prevailing winds, Democrats have good reason to think they'll be able to pick up Bartlett's seat. If they can do so (and also win another special in a solidly blue seat in Grafton County), then on paper, the New Hampshire House would have exactly 200 members of each party. It would represent an extraordinary development, given that Republicans gerrymandered the current map to their advantage following the 2020 census. But what would happen next?
It's not clear that formal control of the chamber would change, particularly because a handful of Democrats voted to elect Republican Sherman Packard as speaker by secret ballot following the November midterms. But on any given day in the New Hampshire House, there are always absences, so what matters is who shows up. And Democrats have at times this year enjoyed superior numbers on the floor, allowing them to block GOP bills or advance measures of their own.
It's also not impossible that the unprecedented nature of a tied House could prompt a reckoning that could lead to a power-sharing agreement. But what matters most is preparing for the future. There will assuredly be more special elections at some point, which means that Democrats could take a bona fide majority before long. Even if not, though, they'll want to position themselves for victory in 2024, when the entire legislature once again goes before voters. The more seats they hold now, the likelier they are to meet with success next year.