Special elections don’t sway the balance of power in the House, especially with the Democrats having such an advantage. Their power is in how people read them. In 2008 the Republicans had to defend three seats which became vacant. Two were in strong Republican districts, while the third was ex-Speaker Dennis Hastert’s seat. Democrats pulled off upset wins in each election. It might have been a predictor for what was coming in November and it may have also energized Democrats enough to fulfill that prediction.
Republicans have recently won victories in two Democratic strong holds, Massachusetts and New Jersey, and picked up Democratic National Committee Tim Kaine’s governorship. Republicans seem to be energized. Democrats? We don’t know. If the healthcare bill passes the left wing base may be energized enough to make a difference. If not, the Democrats likely won’t wake up from their slumber until they do pass significant legislation.
The Democrats have three open seats that will likely all have elections in May. While Pennsylvania-12 was held by John Murtha for years the district has been skewing Republican. Hawaii-1 is strongly Democratic. New York-29 still skews Republican but elected a Democrat in 2008.
The Democrats may have a stronger candidate in Pennsylvania-12 and definitely do in Hawaii-1. The Republicans have an advantage in New York-29 they didn’t have in the 2009 elections in New York-20 and New York-23. They have two candidates who have been campaigning for months, while the Democrats have a candidate who is just starting his campaign.
The district is skewing Republican, however, with a large population of working class Democrats who have been responsive to the Republican message. If the environment is favorable to Republicans this one is winnable.
EDIT: It was pointed out to me that this election is the same day as the Pennsylvania primary. The Democrats have competitive primaries for governor and senator, while the GOP doesn’t. This could give the Democrats an advantage in turn out.
The Hawaii election, however, is a free for all with two prominent Democrats and one prominent Republican. The winner will be the candidate who gets the most votes regardless whether it’s a majority of the ballots cast. If the two Democrats could split the Democratic vote Charles Dijou, the Republican candidate, could win the seat with 37% of the vote. Neil Abercrombie won the district by comfortable margins, but the two Democrats running aren’t Abercrombie. George W. Bush took 47% of the vote in 2004.
New York-29 just became open with Eric Massa’s resignation. The Republicans have a candidate in former Corning Mayor Tom Reed. Reed hasn’t lit the fundraising world on fire, but he has a significant head start over a Democratic candidate who has yet to be determined. Once New York Governor David Paterson declares the seat vacant an election will occur within 30-40 days. A short window will make it difficult on a candidate who has no campaign apparatus or money in the bank.
When it appeared Scott Brown had a chance in Massachusetts donations poured in and people from all over the country made GOTV calls. Martha Coakley did not. Enthusiasm could be a big factor, as could spending from the congressional campaign committees. The Democrats have more money. So they could pour it heavily into these races, while the Republicans might wait until November when all these districts will be up for election again.
These elections should be interesting, but what they’ll say is anybody’s guess.