Why you should care
Because Tuesday's results serve as a guide — and a warning sign — to 2020.
Susan Del Percio
Susan Del Percio is a New York–based Republican strategist.
Suburban voters rejected the GOP. That is the most significant takeaway from election night 2019. While President Donald Trump is not concerned about losing the ruby red states of Kentucky and Mississippi next year, he should be very worried about the massive turnout of suburban voters.
The big upset in Kentucky — with Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democrat, topping incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin — is sending shock waves throughout the Republican Party. Kentucky is a state that Donald Trump won by 30 percentage points. Bevin won in 2015 by 9 percentage points in an upset. Since then, his popularity has tanked. Bevin’s 34 percent approval rate is the lowest of any governor in the country, according to Morning Consult.
In his 2015 win, turnout was about 30 percent. On Tuesday, turnout was close to 42 percent. In addition, there are approximately 240,000 more registrants on the voter rolls now.
Yet, none of this is especially good news for the Democrats if they nominate a candidate who will immediately turn off suburban voters.
To deal with this surge at the ballot box, Bevin’s strategy was to closely align himself with Trump. To rally Republicans, Trump attended a rally for Bevin on election night eve. “You’re sending that big message to the rest of the country, it’s so important, you got to get your friends, you got to vote,” Trump told the crowd. “Because if you lose, it sends a really bad message. … You can’t let that happen to me.”
What Bevin didn’t count on was that while Trump would increase turnout in rural areas as they planned, the anti-Trump sentiment also led to a huge turnout among urban and suburban voters.
Bevin’s Democratic challenger, Beshear, ran a campaign on the issues. In addition, he distanced himself from the national Democratic Party. No big headliners campaigned for Beshear. As he told the Lexington Herald Leader, “Matt Bevin has a disastrous record of tearing people away from their health care, of attacking teachers. With that disastrous record, he has to hide behind someone else.” The message worked, leading Beshear to an apparent victory — though Bevin is refusing to concede and will likely ask for a recount, trailing by 5,000 votes.
In Virginia, the suburban turnout was tremendous, leading Democrats to take control of the state legislature for the first time in 24 years. Virginia has been trending blue, and Republicans had only narrow majorities in both houses, so this loss may have been expected, but the implications are significant. The Democrats will have control over redistricting and are expected to pass gun safety regulations immediately.
Team Trump is barely acknowledging there was a race in Virginia because they know it will not be competitive next year; he lost the state to Hillary Clinton by 5 percentage points. However, they should be concerned that for the second consecutive year, moderate, suburban Republicans have turned their backs on the Republican Party. What’s happening in Loudoun County, Virginia, is also happening in places like Cobb County, Georgia, and Delaware County, Pennsylvania — where the headline from the Philadelphia Inquirer blares: “The blue wave crashes down on Pennsylvania again, as voters from Philly to Delaware County turn left.” That’s a result impossible for Trump to ignore, given how pivotal Pennsylvania will be in 2020.
Trump did claim credit for Republican Tate Reeves’ victory in the Mississippi governor’s race, but there are warning signs there, too. Take Madison County, outside Jackson: Trump won there by 16 percentage points in 2016, but Democrat Jim Hood narrowly captured the county Tuesday night.
When looking at the election results for 2018 and 2019, it is clear that Trump has a huge problem with moderate, suburban voters, especially women. The campaign is trying to counter this by registering more rural voters and people without college degrees. Looking at Kentucky, that is an uphill battle. Yet, none of this is especially good news for the Democrats if they nominate a candidate who will immediately turn off suburban voters.
A few things suburban voters are not fond of: losing their private health insurance, open borders, free college education and health care for immigrants who are in the country illegally — and, of course, higher taxes.
Should the Democrats nominate a candidate who runs on those issues, they will be putting the suburbs back in play. The polls tell us over and over that the number one priority for Democrats is to beat Donald Trump. If that is the case, they would be well-advised to nominate someone who can win the suburbs. If they don’t, Tuesday’s “blue wave” will crash sooner than they think.