Republicans Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin and Mike Garcia of California sent their Democratic opponents packing in two key House special elections that left politicos in shock.
Democrats were convinced they were heading into the fall election with momentum, but the energized GOP base took them by surprise. They had hoped their strategy of hammering President Donald Trump for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic would badly hurt Republican candidates.
Garcia’s 12-point lead in the Los Angeles area’s 25th Congressional District was the most shocking, forcing Democrat Christy Smith to concede the race on Wednesday, even though mail-in ballots are still being counted.
“While it’s critical that we ensure every vote is counted and recorded, we believe that the current tally shows Mike Garcia is the likely victor in the May 12 special election. As such, I’d like to congratulate him,” Smith said in a statement on Wednesday.
The former Navy combat pilot is leading 56%-44%, with 76% of the vote. The likely insurmountable lead means Republicans will retake the Democratic-held congressional seat for the first time in the state since 1998.
The state assemblywoman and Garcia will face off again in a November rematch. Democrats hope turnout in the presidential election will sweep Smith back into office.
The swing-district seat was vacated by Katie Hill in 2019. She resigned after becoming embroiled in scandal when the Daily Mail published naked images of her without her consent, forcing her to admit having an affair with a campaign staffer.
The president and the GOP were ebullient and hopeful as they celebrated the wide margins in the midst of the pandemic’s economic wreckage.
“Big Congressional win in California for Mike Garcia, taking back a seat from the Democrats. This is the first time in many years that a California Dem seat has flipped back to a Republican. Also, Tom Tiffany beat his Democrat rival BIG in Wisconsin. Two great Congressional WINS!” tweeted Trump.
Garcia appeared on Fox and Friends Thursday to discuss his historic win. “The margin of victory was maybe a little bit bigger than even I expected, but I think it’s a resounding win and it’s a testimony to the hard work of this great team over the last year,” Garcia said.
He surmised that the pandemic may have upended the dynamics of the race. “Especially in a time when small businesses are hurting, and taxpayers are hurting, the message of helping small businesses being pro-growth, being pro-business and lowering taxes was resonating with folks,” he said.
His campaign was forced to adapt to the challenge of reaching voters in the midst of lockdown orders by holding tele-thon town halls.
“It changed the dynamic quite a bit, not being able to campaign,” Garcia said. “And we pivoted early on, even before the lockdown orders were made, to virtual events, virtual town halls, and we actually did a very good job of still reaching out to the constituents and still reaching out to the folks talking about the issues, talking about the messaging.”
Garcia emphasized that “every registered voter had a self-addressed, stamped envelope sent to them with a ballot, so accessibility was very high.”
Tiffany’s impressive 14-point win in Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District was also an invigorating surprise for the GOP. National Democrats like Senators Cory Booker, Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren had thrown their support behind his rival Tricia Zunker.
The state senator will replace retired Rep. Sean Duffy and is expected to face Zunker again in the regular fall election, but analysts predict that Tiffany will win again.