For months, the Democratic Party has been trying and failing to win special elections, with a string of losses in much-hyped congressional races from Kansas to Montana to Georgia. The losses have been relatively narrow, though, and there are signs at the local and district levels that Democrats are outperforming what one might reasonably expect in firmly red states. For example, Democrats just flipped two Oklahoma legislative seats.
Democratic candidates Karen Gaddis and Michael Brooks-Jimenez won state House and Senate seats, respectively. In Gaddis' case, she'll be representing the state's House District 75, while Brooks will represent State Senate District 44, comprising parts of Oklahoma City.
There were some extraordinary circumstances in play that benefited the Democratic candidates in these races, as the Charlotte Observer noted. Both of the seats Gaddis and Brooks-Jimenez won were only open due to Republican resignations under scandalous and politically damaging circumstances.
Gaddis is succeeding former GOP Rep. Dan Kirby, who faced sexual harassment allegations from two former staffers, while Brooks-Jimenez will take the seat of former state senator Ralph Shortey, who's been criminally charged for allegedly soliciting sex from a 17-year-old. Kirby has denied harassing his aides, but admitted to using poor judgment. Shortey resigned and turned himself in on the charges, but says he will defend himself against them.
Because of these controversies, both of the Republican candidates Gaddis and Brooks-Jimenez defeated were carrying some heavy political baggage. But Gaddis and Brooks-Jimenez weren't running against the scandal-plagued GOP candidates, and they still came out comfortably on top despite the GOP's grip on Oklahoma politics ― a heartening sign for state-level Democratic candidates throughout the country.
In 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in Oklahoma by a margin of more than 30 points. In the preceding 44th and 75th district House and Senate races, Kirby defeated his Democratic opponent by 19 points, and Shortey defeated his opponent ― Brooks-Jimenez, his now-successor ― by about 10 points.
This week, by way of comparison, Gaddis defeated her Republican opponent by about five points, while Brooks-Jimenez prevailed by nearly 10 points. That represents net Democratic gains of about 24 points and 15 points respectively, since the last time these seats were up for grabs. It's an encouraging outcome for progressives and Democrats hoping for a big midterm election season next year, even though there's a long time until then, and a lot of things could change.