Special elections are momentum fueled turnout wars. They also often prove to be harbingers of political trends for the upcoming election cycles. The 1993 and 1994 special election victories for the Republicans in multiple congressional races indicated the national mood was swinging and the GOP was going to have a banner year. The same thing happened with Democratic victories in special and off-year elections in 2005.
Here in Florida the axiom hasn’t always proven true but often times it has. Tom Feeney’s 1996 special election victory after Republican incumbent Marvin Couch was caught with a prostitute indicated Republican strength. The Democrats spent time, money and ultimately lots of political favors on attempting to win that seat. Later in the year the GOP would capture the state House for the first time a 120 years despite President Bill Clinton carrying the state by close to six points. In 2008, Tony Sasso’s special election victory indicated the mood was trending Democratic; though Sasso himself lost in November, the Democrats fared well otherwise.
Tomorrow in Pasco County, Democrat Amanda Murphy seems poised to win a Special District in House District 36. Outgoing Rep. Mike Fasano, an erstwhile Republican, has endorsed her over GOP nominee Bill Gunter. The district itself is one the Democrats cannot afford to lose if the party is going to claw back towards a respectable number in the state House. Rarely have the Democrats been afforded such a good pick-up opportunity in a special election.
Democrats are quietly confident of victory. The district is basically a toss-up but grassroots efforts have been impressive. One operative on the ground in the race told us today that Murphy is faring better among Republicans than Gunter is among Democrats, and that the Democrat is also faring better among independents.
Progressive and Democratic groups have poured into House District 36 with energy that often has been missing in past campaigns. One operative estimates 10,000 voter contacts have been made by Young Democrats alone. Another operative indicates that phone banking has been a key with greater organization among Democrats and progressive groups than any Florida Legislative special election in recent memory.
All of this indicates that the general low turnout model that favors Republicans in special elections may be overcome by Murphy in this race. Still, Gunter may benefit from a late slew of ads and the negative campaign pushed by outside groups tied to the Republican leadership.
At this point it feels like Murphy will hang on but should she be upended, the negative campaign can be credited. Still it seems like the Democrats are poised to pick up a seat, bringing the number of Democrats to 45 in the House which would be a magic number of some sort — the number I have long felt Democrats needed to be at entering an election in order to seriously raise money to begin outlining realistic plans to regain the majority before the 2022 redistricting.