This article is part of The D.C. Brief, TIME’s politics newsletter. Sign up HereSubscribe to receive stories similar to this in your inbox
Now, an unexpected echo to yesterday’s column: Don’t look now, but Democrats may not be toast The House. Admittedly, it’s a longshot, but a new data point Tuesday evening made it seem more plausible, sending Republicans in Washington into a late-night scramble as they groped for an answer to an urgent question: how had they gotten a New York special election so wrong?
The seat representing New York’s 19th Congressional District came open in May when Rep. Antonio Delgado was appointed lieutenant governor. Before it flipped to Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the Hudson River Valley district was twice won by Barack Obama. This means that it’s one of those areas analysts view as an indicator of the overall nation. And with more than 90% of ballots reported, Democratic nominee Pat Ryan was ahead with 52% of the vote—enough to send him to Washington through the balance of Delgado’s term.
Maybe everything isn’t entirely terrible for Democrats, question mark? Both parties nominated mainstream candidates to fill Delgado’s seat, and invested heavily in the race as they road-tested messages in a dress rehearsal proxy for November: abortion rights for Democrats and the economy for Republicans. A close-to-perfect swing district saw a small turnout vote for the Democrat. This was a county executive of the Establishment wing. This follows the rejection by Kansas voters of an amendment to Kansas’ constitution which would have made the task easier for state legislators to restrict abortion access.
Perhaps the Republicans finally got what they wanted: to reverse Obamacare. Roe,However, it could have long-term consequences for the political system.
Both parties have had mixed results in special elections this year. The Democrats lost a South Texas special election in which they sought to replace Rep. Filemon Vela. But, the Democrats beat all expectations by winning special elections in Nebraska and Minnesota. And they weren’t exactly trying in a rural New York district that stayed in GOP hands last night. Are they using imperfect proxies? Absolutely. There are only a few ways you can check in before November with the nation’s electorate. Ryan’s win, coupled with a rebounding economy, declining gas prices, and a second-year second wind for President Joe Biden, and Democrats suddenly have less reason to think that November will be the bloodbath that many—including this column—have been anticipating.
Democrats weren’t gloating Wednesday morning about their historic disadvantages or boasting that they solved them. After all, 9/11 was the only way to make President George W. Bush buck trends that often see new White Houses losing in their first encounter with voters. But the GOP’s warning memo off last night practically writes itself. As well, the Democratic Playbook for Moving Forward.
Republicans seemed to have underestimated the power that abortion rights would pack this cycle. VoteVets—a veterans’ group aligned with Democrats—spent heavily in NY-19 warning that a Republican-controlled Congress would try to pass a national ban on abortion. The issue became more urgent in the intervening hours as both the consultants classes and the public took notice.
The win will be short-lived for Ryan; New York’s hellscape of redistricting moved the district lines badly. Ryan, who is running for the full term in this year’s election in another neighboring district, will again be on the ballot this fall. Ryan’s defeated opponent, too, will be back this fall—as the nominee in the same 19th District without Ryan on the ballot.
However, Democrats, who spent much of the year dejected about poor polling and an inemic White House have reason to be optimistic about the Red Wave. It is MAGA Red water, but the future may be less clear.
Washington is the place to be. Register for D.C. Brief Newsletter.
Read More From Time