The Republican Party’s increasing Trump-era tendency toward more extreme nominees and its struggles to account for the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade have already cost it plenty. It’s quite possible that these things cost it control of the Senate in both the 2020 and 2022 elections.
If unpopular GOP nominees in key states had merely matched the political fundamentals, Republicans might have held the Senate for the duration of Joe Biden’s presidency and had a much more significant House majority with which to work today.
Now, these same things may have cost Republicans control of a state.
New Hampshire on Tuesday became the latest state in which Democrats over-performed in a special election — a trend that has held very steady ever since Roe was overturned last summer.
Democrat Hal Rafter won by 12 points in a state House district that went narrowly for Donald Trump in 2020. The 12-point improvement on the 2020 margin is in line with Democrats’ encouraging continued over-performances in special elections this year; Daily Kos Elections and FiveThirtyEight data on more than two dozen special elections show the party running an average of 7.6 points better than their 2020 margins — margins from a 2020 election that, it bears noting, were already good for Democrats — and double digits better than the normal partisan fundamentals.
New Hampshire wasn’t even the only state in which Democrats lodged a crucial win and an overperformance in a special election Tuesday. They also took back the majority in the Pennsylvania Capitol by defeating a Trump-aligned candidate. That result was expected in a blue-leaning district, but Democrats again beat the fundamentals by around double digits.
The New Hampshire victory is especially significant because it could ultimately deprive Republicans of their governing “trifecta” — that is, full control of both chambers of the state legislature and the governorship.
Democrats now have one fewer seat than Republicans, but if upcoming special elections break as expected, the chamber would be tied. Whether Democrats will ultimately tie the chamber and, if so, for how long, is to be determined; the New Hampshire state House’s 400 members make it the third-largest English-speaking legislative body in the world, which means frequent vacancies. Two members also recently left their parties to become independents.
But the race in a highly competitive district was seemingly crucial for maintaining the trifecta. And the tale of how Republicans lost it is a familiar one: by nominating an extreme, Trumpy candidate who proved unpalatable.
Northwood Selectman Jim Guzofski (R) defeated a candidate backed by much of the local Republican Party apparatus in last month’s primary. In Guzofski, the GOP had not only a candidate who raised very little money — less than $500, or about 1 percent of what Rafter raised — but who espoused many of the kinds of extreme and conspiratorial positions that have dogged other Republicans.
He was a 2020 election “truther” who on Jan. 6, 2021, accused then-Vice President Mike Pence of having “betrayed” Trump by not trying to overturn the election. He later cited “prophets” who said the election was stolen and that “President Trump is still the elected president.”He said supporters of abortion rights desire “blood sacrifices to their god, Molech.” He also had a long history of anti-LGBTQ+ comments.He espoused various hard-right theories about the coronavirus and vaccine.He repeatedly attacked Gov. Chris Sununu (R), including calling him “toxic” and saying he was on “China’s most favored governor’s list.”
Whether any of these positions truly cost Guzofski is difficult to say in a low-turnout race. But certainly these statements would appear symptomatic of a candidate who lacks the kind of broad appeal you’d want in such a race.
And the story was similar in Pennsylvania. The GOP nominee there? Someone who was apparently in Washington on Jan. 6 because Trump was the only “person who has stood up to Pedophilia, Sex Trafficking of Children, and Satanic Worship,” the candidate posted on Facebook.
After Guzofski’s defeat, Republican state Rep. Ross Berry remarked to the New Hampshire Journal, “If you cozy up to and campaign with former president Donald Trump, you can expect to lose votes.”
“No amount of money, campaigning, or deep roots to your community will overcome the voters’ absolute rejection of Trump-affiliated candidates in New Hampshire,” Berry added.
While Sununu was cruising to reelection in November 2022 by 16 points and the state GOP held on to its control of both houses, Guzofski-esque U.S. Senate candidate Don Bolduc lost by more than nine points, while two Trump-aligned congressional candidates who defeated more palatable primary opponents also underperformed the 2020 results in defeat.
And now, a state-level governing trifecta might be gone as well.