President Donald Trump’s Republican Party has a suburban problem, and it’s not clear that they know what to do about it.
As urban areas become more Democratic leaning and rural areas move to the right, the suburbs are likely going to be where the 2020 election is decided. Tuesday’s elections suggest Trump and the Republicans have ground to make up.
The most glaring trouble spot for Republicans on Tuesday was in Kentucky. Democrat Andy Beshear is poised for victory over Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in the race for governor in part because of what happened in the Cincinnati suburbs.
Look at Kenton County, which is the third most populous county in the state. Beshear took it by a point — matching his statewide margin nearly perfectly. In 2016, Trump won Kenton by 26 points. When Bevin was elected in 2015, he took it by 18 points. That was well ahead of his 9-point statewide margin.
Bevin also struggled in Campbell County, right next to Kenton. Beshear won Kenton by 6 points. Trump won Kenton by nearly 25 points in 2016. Bevin easily beat Democrat Jack Conway by 12 points there in 2015.
This suburban shift wasn’t just a Kentucky phenomenon. Even in the Mississippi governor’s race, we saw clear movement away from Republicans in suburban areas. DeSoto County has long been a GOP bastion, and, in good news for Republicans, it still is. The problem: The margins have shrunk in the Trump era.
But on Tuesday, Republican Tate Reeves won DeSoto by 23 points. It was reminiscent of what occurred in the 2018 special Mississippi Senate election, when Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith won DeSoto by 18 points.
And it wasn’t only statewide elections where suburban voters seemed to abandon the GOP. In local elections in the Northeast, voters went for Democrats; for example, Democrats held onto their majority in the New York’s Suffolk County legislature, which had been trending Republican in recent years. This was a county that voted for Trump by 7 points in 2016.
In Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia suburbs were seeing blue. Democrats captured the Bucks County Board of Commissioners for the first time since 1983. Trump lost Bucks by a single point in 2016. Additionally, Democrats wrestled control of the Chester County legislature. Chester was a county that flipped from Romney in 2012 to Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Perhaps the worst news of the night for Republicans came in the suburbs of Virginia. Democrats took control of the state House and Senate on Tuesday. If you look at the state House and Senate maps, you’ll see that there is very little red anywhere close to Washington, DC.
It would be a mistake, though, to think that this was just the Washington suburbs that were upset. Democrats won because they did well in the Richmond suburbs as well. A key Senate pick up came from Democrat Ghazala Hashmi. She became the first Muslim-American to be elected to the Virginia Senate by defeating Republican state Sen. Glen Sturtevant.
The Virginia results might be our most insightful clue as to what will happen in 2020. In 2017, Democrats won the state House popular vote by 9 points on strength in the suburbs. A year later, they won the national House vote by 9 points and the control of the House on the strength of the suburbs.
In 2019, Democrats are winning the Virginia House vote by 9 points.
We’ll just have to wait and see what that means for 2020.