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With Recent Special Elections, the Tables Are Set for Spring

By Haley Rosenspire  |  February 27, 2023

Democrats defended their territory and gained some ground in several special elections last week, picking up a legislative seat in New Hampshire, holding a U.S. House seat in Virginia and holding a legislative seat in Kentucky.

Outside the legislative sphere, a fiercely fought primary for an upcoming vacancy on the Wisconsin Supreme Court yielded both a conservative and a liberal contestant for the officially nonpartisan general election on April 4.

New Hampshire

In the special runoff election in the House of Representatives, Democrat Chuck Grassie won back his seat by beating Republican David Walker, 568-451. The special election was held to break a tie between the two candidates in the November general election. Despite Grassie’s victory, Republicans retain a razor-thin majority, holding 201 seats to Democrats’ 198. Eyes now turn to another vacant House seat, in Nashua’s Ward 4, which will have its own special election May 4. The nearly deadlocked numbers present unique opportunities and challenges when it comes to avoiding gridlock and facilitating bipartisan cooperation.


State Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D) won a special election to become Virginia’s first Black congresswoman. McClellan will represent Virginia’s 4th District, after defeating Republican Leon Benjamin for the seat held by the late Democratic Rep. Donald McEachin since 2017. McClellan has been in the General Assembly since she won her first House race in 2005 and won a special election for the state Senate in 2017, replacing McEachin when he was elected to Congress. McClellan’s election drops the Democrats’ majority in the state Senate to three seats; a special election will be held to fill the vacancy in this safely Democratic district.


Democrat Cassie Chambers Armstrong, a member of the Louisville Metro Council, won a special election for the vacant District 19 seat in the state Senate, defeating Republican Misty Glin with 77% of the vote. The seat was vacated by Morgan McGarvey (D), who won his race for Kentucky’s 3rd Congressional District in November. Armstrong will become one of seven Democrats in the state Senate, where Republicans hold 30 seats.


In the special election primary for the Supreme Court, Janet Protasiewicz and Daniel Kelly have advanced to the April 4 general election. Although the election was nonpartisan, Protasiewicz, a Milwaukee County circuit court judge, was widely endorsed by top Democrats and liberal leaders, while Kelly, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, had similar support from top Republicans. Their affiliations will have substantial implications for the general election. The soon-to-be vacant seat is from the court’s current one-seat conservative majority, which means Protasiewicz would give liberals a majority on the court. Whoever wins will have a major impact on legal decisions on a variety of topics heading into 2024. Money flooded in from both sides in the primary, and experts predict that spending on the race could break the record for the most expensive campaign for a single state Supreme Court seat.

Haley Rosenspire is a law clerk in NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program. She is currently in William & Mary Law School’s Election Law Program.

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