Democrats keep flipping seats in state special elections

Two women who won this week explain how they did it.

Democrat Annette Taddeo CREDIT: AP Photo/Alan Diaz
Democrat Annette Taddeo CREDIT: AP Photo/Alan Diaz

Two Democratic women flipped seats in special elections for their states’ legislatures on Tuesday, bringing the total number of seats the party has taken from the GOP this year to eight. Republicans, meanwhile, have yet to flip a single Democratic held seat.

In Florida, three-time candidate Annette Taddeo won a Miami-area state Senate seat in a district that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016 but traditionally supports Republicans down-ballot. And in New Hampshire, Democrat Kari Lerner, a first-time politician, won a state House seat in a district that Trump won by 23 points.

“I think people have been shaken out of their complacency,” Lerner told ThinkProgress about how she was able to win a Republican seat.

Lerner said she attributes her win to a combination of local issues and her district’s growing frustration with the fact that politicians, especially those in Washington, won’t listen to their concerns. Many of the people who told Lerner they voted for her, she said, voted for Trump in November but have grown to regret that decision.

Taddeo agreed, saying that voters in Florida feel a disconnect with the politicians they send to the capital.

“Washington could use more listening to people on the ground,” Taddeo told ThinkProgress.

Lerner’s opponent has called for a recount — she won by just 39 votes in a low turnout election — but if she prevails, she will not be the only Democrat to win a GOP seat this year in a district that supported Trump. On September 12, Democrats won two seats — one in Oklahoma and one in New Hampshire — that Trump also won by double digits. According to Daily Kos, out of the eight seats Democrats have flipped in special elections this year, the average favored Trump by 13 points.


For Taddeo, the growing grassroots resistance movement since Trump’s election played largely into her victory. She said she relied heavily on volunteers — both from her district and around the country — to knock on doors, make phone calls, and send hand-written postcards to her district’s citizens.

While the race in her district was likely swayed by factors outside her control, including Hurricane Irma which wiped out power to much of her district during the early voting period, Taddeo said the results show that anger with Trump and grassroots activism can and will continue to help Democrats win seats. Though she has run for office a number of times in Florida, she said this is the first time she’s seen so much grassroots energy.

Democrats on the national level are already looking at how they can channel that engagement into more electoral victories.

“This crucial win tonight is a great representation of Democrats’ winning momentum and increased engagement in the Trump era,” Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee Executive Director Jessica Post said in a statement Tuesday night.