Virginia Suggests the GOP Can’t Establish a Non-Trump Image in the Suburbs

Campaign signs line the entrance to a polling place where voters cast their ballots to vote in state and local elections in Richmond, Virginia, U.S. November 5, 2019. (Ryan M. Kelly/Reuters)

For those who would contend that Republican woes in the suburbs are merely a matter of bad candidates, bad campaigns, and bad luck, and are unrelated to the positions, statements, and behavior of President Trump, note this presentation about the 2019 elections in Virginia, prepared by the law firm Gentry Locke.

Slides twelve through fourteen note, “as goes Trump, so goes the district.” Heading into this cycle, Virginia Republicans held quite a few key  state legislative swing districts that Trump lost in 2016. This year, they lost just about all of them, providing the margin that gave Democrats control of both chambers: Senate districts ten and 13 and House districts 28, 40, 76, 83, 91, and 94. Democrats now control the State Senate by a 21–19 margin and the state house by 55–45 margin.

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Every political mind in the state knew these were the key swing districts — the state GOP, the candidates, the outside GOP-supporting groups. Everyone knew these were places where the president’s name was mud. And the GOP threw everything they had into these districts, trying to give these suburbanites a reason to keep their Republican incumbent in place, even if they weren’t pleased with Trump. And it didn’t work. Nothing could overcome the advantage the Democrats had developed in these once GOP-friendly districts.

This is ominous news for Republicans, suggesting that only a very select group of GOP candidates can build a level of support that exceeds their district’s view of President Trump. (Representative Brian Fitzpatrick, who represents Bucks County in Pennsylvania, may be a rare example.) The president is mostly radioactive among women, minorities, white-collar workers, Millennials and young voters, and suburbanites. He has made the GOP more competitive with older voters, working-class whites and expanded their margins among rural and exurban voters, and that may help them in places like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. But it will lead to serious down-ticket losses in places like Virginia and Colorado.

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