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In local races, Democrats see a changing tide

May 18, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli | Washington Bureau
(Ed Reinke, AP )

Reporting from Washington — It's a far cry from the seismic vote of last November, but Democrats are nonetheless bullish about a handful of election results Tuesday that they say offers more evidence that the political pendulum is swinging back the party's way.


FOR THE RECORD
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Craig Huey, a California Republican congressional candidate, may have qualified for a July 12 runoff against Jane Harman. He could face Democrat Janice Hahn in the race to replace Harman, who resigned from office.


Voters in Jacksonville, Florida's largest city, may have elected a Democratic mayor for the first time in two decades despite a full court press by the state GOP, including heavyweights like Sen. Marco Rubio.

In New Hampshire, where the state House went from a 46-seat Democratic majority to a nearly 200-seat Republican majority after the November election, Democrats won a special election in a traditionally Republican district, which local reports deemed a major upset.

In Kentucky, the Republican front-runner in the race to challenge Democratic incumbent Gov. Steve Beshear stumbled across the finish line in the state's primary election, with a "tea party" challenger beating expectations for a strong second-place finish.

Republicans did have a bright spot in the special election in California's 36th congressional district, where Republican Craig Huey may have qualified for the July 12 runoff against Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, a Democrat. Democrats were quick to point out, however, that Democratic candidates won a combined 56% of the vote.

Though Republicans yawned at the results, the Democratic spin machine is geared up as they read the tea leaves, saying national trends boosted Democrats in the scattered contests.

Jacksonville's mayoral runoff election did feature state and national party leaders on behalf of the finalists. Not only did a roster of Florida Republicans campaign with Mike Hogan, but also former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore appeared at events for Democrat Alvin Brown.

Brown leads Hogan by a razor-thin margin of 603 votes. The final result hinges on absentee and provisional ballots, though Democrats say Hogan is unlikely to make up the deficit.

A Democratic official involved with the race said that, following a sweep of city offices in Tampa earlier this year, the result shows newly elected Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, has been a drag on his party. 

"It's safe to say GOP leaders around Florida are likely in a bit of shock this morning," Florida Times-Union columnist Abel Harding wrote Wednesday.

But Florida Republican Party spokesman Trey Stapleton countered that the race was only close because both candidates ran on conservative platforms.

"Alvin Brown didn't run on any Democratic issues," he said. "In fact it seems as if he used some if the messaging points from the governor's campaign."

A more significant test of party strength looms May 24 in New York's 26th congressional district, where a special election has drawn national attention and spending in a three-way contest with Democrats running hard against the GOP’s Medicare proposal written by Rep. Paul Ryan.

michael.memoli@latimes.com

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