By Erin Murphy, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau
Two special elections last week in conservative strongholds — one in western Iowa, another in America’s deep South — have given Iowa Democrats more reason to be excited about 2018.
Although at least one of those election results comes with a caveat.
In a closely watched special election for a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, Democrat Doug Jones upset Republican Roy Moore, becoming the first Democrat in 25 years to represent Alabama in the Senate.
Jones’ victory has Democrats soaring and believing it is yet another signal that their party is poised to make gains in the 2018 elections, that voters are rejecting Republican policies as well as the actions and statements of GOP President Donald Trump.
Democrats feel they are starting to stack successes. They earlier won contested gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia, and now won a Senate seat in a red state.
But the latest victory comes with a disclaimer.
Moore was supported by the national party and Trump, so Democrats see their victory as a rejection of Trump and national GOP policies. While that may be true to a certain extent, Moore also was a fatally flawed candidate: He has been accused by multiple women of having an inappropriate romantic relationship with them while he was an adult and they were minors.
While Democrats were able to motivate and turn out voters, it’s also true that Moore did not solidify full support of Alabama Republicans. Nearly 23,000 write-in votes were cast, according to the Alabama Secretary of State. That number is larger than the margin of Jones’ victory.
So while Democrats are justified in celebrating their success in Alabama, the character of Moore’s candidacy clearly impacted the race. The result may not necessarily be a predictor of election results to come.
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Iowa Democrats also this week were excited by a special election for a seat in the Iowa Senate, even though the party’s candidate lost.
In Northwest Iowa, Republican Jim Carlin defeated Democrat Todd Wendt. But it was the margin that encouraged Iowa Democrats: in a Senate district were Republican active voters outnumber Democrats by 22.6 percentage points and Trump won in 2016 by 41 points, the GOP candidate in last week’s special election won by just 9.1 points.
“Democrats made considerable gains and demonstrated that we can and will fight for every district, every county, and every precinct in Iowa and elect more representatives who will put people first and respect Iowa values,” Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price said in a statement.
Whether the victory and morale booster portend big things for Democrats in 2018 remains to be seen. But as the successes begin to add up, Democrats grow more hopeful that a blue wave is rolling in.
Trump’s approval DROPS in Iowa
A new Iowa Poll, published this month by the Des Moines Register, shows Trump’s job approval numbers slipping.
Sixty percent of Iowans said the country is headed in the wrong direction, and 60 percent disapprove of Trump’s job performance, according to poll results published by the Register.
Those are big numbers in a state that Trump won in 2016.
And Trump’s approval numbers are getting worse. From the Iowa Poll in July to the new poll now, Trump’s job approval in Iowa went down from 43 to 35 percent, and disapproval went up from 52 to 60 percent, the Register reported.
The new poll also contained one number that had to be concerning for Republicans in Iowa’s congressional delegation: 40 percent of Iowans said they would prefer to elect a Democrat to Congress vs. 34 percent who said they would prefer a Republican. Those numbers surely grabbed the attention of campaign staff in Iowa’s 1st and 3rd districts, which historically have been competitive.
Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.