GOP Trashed in Special Elections

Article excerpt

A DRUMBEAT OF CORRUPTION, deficits and war dead has begun to haunt Republican candidates as they hit the campaign trail. The macabre cadence is playing more widely than just federal races: Since November, it has become the background music in a series of state special elections.

Democrats are winning, often overwhelmingly, in districts and states that have backed Republicans in recent elections. The results show that state-level progressive candidates are better poised than at any time in the past 14 years to benefit from a defection of moderate conservatives and a slight left turn in the electorate.

In central Texas, nurse and former school board member Donna Howard beat Ben Bentzin in a Feb. 14 special state House race in suburban Travis County, outside Austin. Howards win signaled that Democrats can stand tough even in Republican-tilted districts imposed by "the DeLay-mander," a revamping of federal districts now under scrutiny by the Supreme Court.

"People were receptive to the idea that someone was willing to talk about going into the legislature and actually making hard decisions, rather than following in lockstep with the failed leadership," Howard told the Austin American-Statesman. Like other Democratic triumphs of late, her 58 to 42 percent victory came in a district that broke for the GOP in '04.

The same day in Kentucky, in a race that drew media attention and door-knockers from three states, Perry Clark, a veteran and Boy Scout volunteer, took the 37th state Senate seat. He won 54 to 46 percent in a district that snakes inland from the Ohio River on the southwest side of Louisville. It too was carried by the GOP in 2004.

Labor households were galvanized by recent Republican efforts to undermine Kentucky unions through a "right-to-work" law. In addition, Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher is under investigation for filling state jobs with cronies in violation of rules on merit-based hiring. Both dynamics boosted Clark.

Next door in Virginia, Mark Herring took a state Senate seat in the D.C. suburbs that Democrats hadn't even contested in 2002. The landslide 62 to 38 percent win on Jan. 31 sent shockwaves through the GOP, already reeling from a blow just three weeks earlier. In Jerry Fallwell's stomping ground of Lynchburg, Shannon Valentine rode to a 58 to 42 win for a seat that also hadn't drawn a Democratic challenger last time around.

Missouri, a battleground that rates as the best bellwether of presidential elections, has seen Democratic victories in conservative districts as well. …