A win in rural Iowa has Democrats talking

Despite falling short in four closely-watched special elections for seats in Congress, Democrats keep seeing green shoots in lower-level races - and spent Wednesday celebrating a solid victory in the sort of rural Midwestern district that broke away from them in 2016.

Phil Miller, a veterinarian and school board member, easily won Tuesday’s race to fill a southeastern Iowa legislative district, taking 4,021 votes to Republican Travis Harris’s 3,324 votes. That represented a reversal from 2016, where Trump carried the 82nd district by 22 points, as part of an Iowa landslide that ended Democratic control of the state Senate.

“Republicans should have flipped House District 82 with their hands tied behind their proverbial backs,” wrote Carolyn Fiddler, the political editor of Daily Kos, in a memo to the liberal blog’s readers.

In the year’s 31 special elections for legislative seats, Democrats have now out-performed their 2016 performance 24 times. Republicans have flipped control of one seat, in Louisiana; Democrats have whittled away at Republican majorities in New Hampshire, New York, and Oklahoma. They fell short of two more wins on Tuesday in Missouri, losing by 4 points in the 50th House district (which had been targeted by the Bernie Sanders-founded Our Revolution) and by a two-to-one rout in the 28th Senate district. Even that result represented a climb from the three-to-one vote against Hillary Clinton in the district.

The average Democratic increase in vote shares in special elections has been in the high single digits, just where the party would need to be to hold off Republican Senate gains and win the House in 2018. But in the short term, the Iowa race excited liberals for another reason - the failure of an “identity politics” attack on Miller. In a spot that ran over the race’s final days, the Republican Party of Iowa attacked Miller for his role on a school board that allowed students to use the bathrooms that comported with their gender identity, even if it differed from their gender at birth.

“We can’t afford to trust his poor judgment,” said the ad’s narrator, after images of Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton flashed on screen.

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