On Tuesday, Missouri held a special election to fill four state House seats. The seats were controlled by Republicans, who currently hold a supermajority in the chamber.
Ahead of the vote, state Democratic party leaders managed expectations, counting it as a victory that Democratic candidates were even running in these red districts. But they were in for a pleasant surprise.
Missouri voters in House district 97—which voted for Donald Trump by a 28-point margin in 2016—elected 27-year-old Democrat Mike Revis. It is the 35th state legislative seat in the country that Democrats have flipped since Donald Trump became president.
Republicans maintained control of the other three seats, but Democrats outperformed expectations, shifting the vote to the left by double digits.
Democrats have long written off districts like Missouri’s 97th because the data convinced them they were unwinnable. But as we’ve seen time and again since November 2016, data science is not an adequate replacement for politics.
Revis is an interesting candidate. He works at Anheuser-Busch as a procurement manager. He appears to be relatively liberal on economic issues, supports public education and opposes charter schools, cuts to Medicaid, and union-busting right-to-work laws. He’s also a member of the National Rifle Association, and he believes police “deserve to know we have their backs and support them in protecting our communities” and vows to “always support the mission of our men and women in uniform.” In short, he is precisely the type of candidate that centrist Democratic leaders think can flip red districts in 2018. First, though, they have to show up.
The takeaway for Democrats from Tuesday night isn’t that their candidates need to be gun-toting moderates in order to win; it’s that they need to make sure candidates are running in red districts, period. Democratic voters are more activated now than they have been in any midterm year in recent memory. Over the course of the past year, special elections in states like Missouri have told us something: so long as there is a warm body with a (D) after their name on the ballot, people will vote for them.
Tuesday night’s victories should send a clear message to Democrats trying to flip Republican state legislative seats nationwide: run candidates for every open seat, in every district, in every state, no matter how red you think it is. Dare to dream a little bigger.
So: if you’re a left-leaning millennial who lives in a red district and there’s an open seat (and assuming your personal politics aren’t horrendous) you should run. Or, at the very least, peer pressure your better-looking friend into running.