posted by Josh Goodman
Republicans shouldn't just be enthused by winning legislative special elections in Alabama and New Hampshire. They should be enthused about how they won.
In New Hampshire, Republicans retained Senate District 16. They did so in impressive fashion. Despite Democrat Jeff Goley's strong fundraising, Republican David Boutin won every jurisdiction in the district in his 17-point win.
Democrats don't need to win District 16 to win the state. They hold a 14-10 majority without it. George W. Bush won the district handily in 2004, even as John Kerry won New Hampshire (Barack Obama won it narrowly in 2008). Still, 17 points is a thumping -- one that's consistent with the Democratic majorities in both houses of the New Hampshire legislature being in play this fall.
The Republican win in Alabama was, if anything, even more impressive. Republican K.L. Brown scored a 14-point win in a seat that previously had been held by a Democrat.
Republican legislative gains in Alabama are, in a way, more surprising that the party's gains elsewhere. Democrats won so many seats in traditionally Republican territory in 2006 and 2008 that even in a neutral year or relatively Dem-friendly year, they were guaranteed to lost a lot of those seats.
But, that dynamic can't explain Republican gains in Alabama. For Democrats, 2006 was a great year in lots of places, but Alabama wasn't one of those places. Republican Gov. Bob Riley won reelection easily and Republicans won most of the statewide offices in the state.
Democrats had more notable victories in Alabama in 2008, winning a couple of hotly contested congressional races. However, Democrat membership in the legislature wasn't inflated because there weren't legislative elections. Strangely, Alabama only holds regular legislative elections every four years.
In other words, Republican gains in Alabama (this isn't their first special election win) reflect something bigger than the natural ebb in a recent Democratic tide. What they may reflect, in past, is a concerted effort by Riley to persuade his state's conservative voters to elect the more conservative party.
Two years ago, Riley was pledging to raise the money to help Republicans win a majority in the Alabama legislature in 2010. This was a somewhat strange goal for the governor to set. He's term-limited this year
Of course, I may be overinterpreting the events in Alabama. The lesson here may simply be that funeral directors make great political candidates.
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