In Trump's shadow, Republican suburban slide shows little sign of
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[November 07, 2019]
By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) - The last time Democrats
controlled the government in Delaware County, a suburb of Philadelphia,
the U.S. Civil War had just ended.
But on Tuesday, Democrats ended a century and a half of Republican
dominance. In two other Philadelphia-area suburbs, they captured Chester
County's board of commissioners for the first time in history and seized
control of Bucks County's board of commissioners for the first time
since the 1980s.
The Democratic gains in Pennsylvania, a state crucial to U.S. President
Donald Trump's election in 2016, suggest Republicans have yet to staunch
the bleeding in the suburbs, where voters have increasingly revolted
against Trump's heated rhetoric.
The results should "scare" Republicans ahead of the November 2020
election, said Douglas Heye, a strategist who previously worked for the
Republican National Committee.
"More and more data suggests we're seeing a flight away from Republicans
in suburban areas," Heye said.
There were warning signs in other historically Republican strongholds as
In Kentucky, where Trump this week held a campaign rally to bolster
Republican Governor Matt Bevin's reelection bid, a Democratic challenger
scored an upset win driven in part by a strong performance in suburbs of
northern Kentucky outside Cincinnati, Ohio.
In Virginia, Democrats captured total control of state government for
the first time in a generation, flipping both chambers of the
legislature on the strength of wins in the rapidly growing and
diversifying suburbs of northern Virginia and the capital of Richmond.
Many vulnerable Virginia Republicans sought to keep the campaign focused
on local issues. Trump notably did not campaign in the state down the
stretch, even as he sought to flex his political muscle in Kentucky and
The election results underscore the challenge Republicans in swing areas
face when Trump seeks re-election in 2020, including U.S. senators Cory
Gardner of Colorado, Susan Collins of Maine, Thom Tillis of North
Carolina and Martha McSally of Arizona: embrace Trump and risk
alienating suburban voters, especially women, or keep your distance and
risk losing Trump diehards.
"That's the question every Republican up for reelection is asking
themselves: how do you overperform Trump in suburban areas without
hurting yourself with the base voters you absolutely need?" said Alex
Conant, a Republican strategist who worked on Senator Marco Rubio's
Collins dismissed reading too much into the local elections, noting
Republicans did well in other Kentucky races, including wresting the
attorney general office from Democrats.
"I think this was an example of a very unpopular incumbent governor,"
she said in an interview in Washington on Wednesday.
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Voters cast their ballots in state and local elections at Pillow
Boro Hall in Pillow, Pennsylvania, U.S. November 5, 2019.
LESSONS FOR DEMOCRATS
Democrats may have their own lessons from Tuesday's elections. In
Kentucky, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear emphasized
so-called "kitchen table issues" such as healthcare and education
instead of Trump during the campaign.
That playbook was successfully employed by dozens of Democratic
congressional candidates in swing districts last year, when the
party seized control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
In the 2020 presidential race, Democrats are grappling with whether
a moderate such as former Vice President Joe Biden or a liberal such
as U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren would be best suited to defeat
"One of the reasons Democrats have overperformed in swing districts
in the last two years is that they've nominated a lot of moderates,"
Conant said, adding that Republicans would likely claw back some
suburban losses if Warren were at the top of the Democratic ticket
It remains difficult to determine how the House impeachment inquiry
is affecting voter choices. Bevin, the Kentucky governor, sought to
capitalize on Republican anger over the issue, using impeachment in
his advertising and defending Trump. It was not enough to win.
Republicans noted that Bevin was deeply unpopular after battling
schoolteachers and unions.
Bevin, who trails by just over 5,000 votes, refused to concede the
race, citing reports of unspecified "irregularities." On Wednesday
he filed for a recanvass, which is a review of vote totals from each
county to ensure the correct figures were transmitted to the state
Tuesday's outcomes also did little to suggest that Democrats have
arrested their own slide during the Trump era in rural areas and
small towns, according to Kyle Kondik, an elections analyst at the
University of Virginia. Republicans made gains in local races in
western Pennsylvania and in southern New Jersey.
"There are countervailing trends that may cancel each other out,"
Kondik said. "I think the suburban problems for Republicans are very
real, but I think the small city and rural problems for Democrats
are also real."
(Reporting by Joseph Ax and Richard Cowan; additional reporting by
Colleen Jenkins; editing by Andrea Ricci and Grant McCool)
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