Resistance Report: Democrats win a key local race — is the turnout a sign of things to come?

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State Capitol Building, Dover, Deleware. (Getty Images)
State Capitol Building, Dover, Deleware. (Getty Images)

A LITTLE RACE WITH BIG TURNOUT. On Saturday, Democrat Stephanie Hansen won a special election for a key state Senate seat in Delaware, ensuring that her party controls the upper legislative chamber.

Now, a Democrat winning a Democratic-leaning state Senate district wouldn’t normally be all that newsworthy, but given that the Democrats’ first step toward rebuilding nationwide involves an urgent need to stop losing ground, a heavily contested win that maintains the status quo is being seen by those looking for signs of revival as a green shoot after a long winter. The Delaware state Senate majority has been held by Democrats for 44 years, and if Hansen had lost, Republicans would have picked up another chamber in their ongoing sweep of state legislative bodies. Former Vice President Joe Biden had stumped for Hansen, telling local voters that the race was “crucial.”

Reports the Huffington Post’s Paul Blumenthal: “The last time her opponent, John Marino, ran in this district, in 2014, he lost by just 2 points. Hansen’s 58-42 percent victory over Marino on Saturday ensured that Democrats will maintain control of the state Senate. It also notched a big Donald Trump-era win for a new generation of Democratic activists shocked into action by the November election. … Hansen’s campaign received huge support. More than 1,000 volunteers worked during the course of the campaign, and about 500 ― many from nearby states ― showed up Saturday for Election Day. Hansen received more than 14,000 contributions of less than $100 from small donors spread all over the country. … Hansen’s election was no sure thing. The district leans Democratic, but Republican Marino had performed well in previous elections. Hall-Long defeated Marino by 1 percentage point in 2014. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the district 54-41 over Trump. Democrats notoriously struggle in special elections.”

There’s no question that while money and organizing strength help, they don’t always guarantee wins: Hillary Clinton vastly outspent Donald Trump and had the endorsement and support of the entire Democratic and liberal and liberal cultural establishment behind her, and she still lost the Electoral College, because she did not hit the turnout numbers that her campaign was banking on to win. Because it’s true, the biggest cliché in political journalism is that “it all comes down to turnout.” Turnout is related to many things — message, money, get-out-the-vote efforts among them — but there’s no getting away from the power of intensity as a factor in turning out voters.

A total of 7,314 people voted for Hansen; the last Democrat to win the district won 6,230 votes.

NATIONALIZING LOCAL RACES. The Delaware race also was an early example of how even the most local of races are being nationalized in an environment where Democrats are itching for any opportunity to turn the tide of GOP electoral success and hold the president accountable. Another test case for that approach will be Virginia’s 2017 gubernatorial primary, where one of the Democrats, former Rep. Tom Perriello, is running hard against President Trump, while another, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, is running a more traditional race on local issues.

“The campaign for Virginia governor was already expected to offer insights about the political landscape: the first statewide election of the Trump era set in a state that both major parties’ presidential nominees contested last year. But by trying to nationalize the race and make it a referendum on the depth of opposition to Mr. Trump, Mr. Perriello has transformed the primary race into a test of whether the boiling liberal rage toward the new president can be harnessed to win a state campaign,” reports the New York Times. “And if he is successful in bending an election that usually revolves around taxes, transportation and education toward the divisive occupant of the White House, he will have sketched out a new strategy for Democrats during the Trump administration that is sure to be mimicked in the party’s primary races in next year’s midterm elections.”

Also on the Democratic radar are special elections in Republican-favored House districts in Kansas, on April 11, and in Georgia, on April 18.

THE END OF “RESISTANCE RECESS.” With Congress’s first district work period of the year having come to an end on Feb. 26, the coalition of activists who have been targeting congressional town halls are concluding their “Resistance Recess” — for now, at any rate. More than 100,000 people turned out to press their members of Congress to answer questions or hold town halls, reported MoveOn.org on the weekly “Ready to Resist” call held by a coalition of groups on Sunday nights.

CASSEROLE PROTESTS. Next up on the protest front will be something called a “casserole protest,” or cacerolazo, a form of protest pioneered in Latin America that gained popularity in the North during the 2012 Quebec student protests. Casserole protests involve banging on pots and pans and other kitchen implements, in addition to signs and chants, and will kick off Tuesday in front of the White House as Trump gives his address to a joint session of Congress. The noisemaking will be preceded by a 6 p.m. “Resistance Address” rally in Lafayette Park, co-sponsored by MoveOn, the ACLU, the Bernie Sanders-backed Our Revolution and other progressive groups.

OSCARS ACTIVISM. It’s hardly novel when the leading lights of Hollywood use the occasion of the Oscars to make public their support for various causes. This year was marked a heavier than usual turn to the political, unsurprisingly, in addition to that historic slip-up in the announcement of Best Picture. “The most eye-catching red carpet look at the Oscars wasn’t a dress. It was a blue ACLU ribbon,” proclaimed a piece by Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan about the ribbons that graced many a couture dress on the red carpet. Host Jimmy Kimmel took on the president directly in his jokes. And the nominees for Best Foreign Language Film wrote a letter denouncing the political climate in the United States.

THE “MAGICAL RESISTANCE”: A group of witches proclaiming a “magical resistance” announced ceremonies to be held last Friday night casting a “binding spell” on Donald Trump. They say they will cast the spell again each month on the night of the crescent moon at midnight. Though some have described their actions as putting a hex on the president, a binding spell, according to the group, is more like a prayer for protection and not a hope for harm. The actual words of the spell posted on Facebook — because, yes, 21st-century witches share documents on Facebook, just like everyone else — don’t sound wildly different from sentiments routinely expressed on Twitter, except that the language is much more formal, and also more polite. Chanting words while physically burning an image of Trump is definitely outside the Twitter wheelhouse, though.

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