Two special elections for the House of Representatives were held yesterday to replace the late Paul Gillmor of Ohio and Jo Ann Davis of Virginia, both Republicans. Republicans held both seats by solid margins.
In Ohio's Fifth District, Bob Latta beat Robin Weirauch 57 to 43 percent. This is a little below George W. Bush's 61-to-39 margin in the district. Democrats put some money in this race, presumably because of the recent strong anti-Republican trend in Ohio. That trend enabled Democrats last year to win the governorship by a wide margin and to win the other statewide offices, listed lower on the ballot, after 16 years of Republican control of state government (the longest such period of party control in Ohio since the 1840s). Latta carried every county in the district.
In Virginia's First District, Republican Rob Wittman beat Democrat Philip Forgit 60 to 38 percent in a race that was not seriously contested. The district voted 60 to 39 percent for Bush in 2004. Forgit carried the cities of Fredericksburg, Hampton (only a small portion of the city is in the district), and Williamsburg; Wittman carried the other independent cities and every county.
The minority party often does well in special elections; a voter knows that his vote will not determine which party controls the House. The fact that Democrat Nikki Tsongas won by only 51 to 45 percent in the very seriously contested race in October in Massachusetts 5 (a 57-to-41 John Kerry district in 2004) was bad news for Democrats. This week's results were not bad news for Republicans. Yes, Latta ran 4 points behind Bush's 2004 percentage, but that's not as much as the 6 points Tsongas ran behind Kerry's 2004 percentage. To me this suggests that the low job approval rating for Congress poses more problems for Democrats than for Republicans in 2008.