Elections highlight electoral map challenges
A few decades ago, Republicans enjoyed a so-called lock on the Electoral College. Later it was Democrats and a substantial blue wall of states that seemed to give them the edge in presidential races.
Tuesday’s midterm results underscored that, for now, those days are gone. Neither party can claim a clear advantage in the arithmetic that will decide who will win the White House in 2020.
Voters delivered divided government to Washington on Tuesday, ousting the Republican majority in the House while reinforcing the GOP majority in the Senate.
Tuesday’s results highlighted the fact that the focal point of the struggle for electoral superiority over the next two years and probably beyond will be in the suburbs. Democrats dominate the big urban centers, and Trump has tightened the GOP’s grip on rural America. That leaves the one place of true competition, the suburban voters, many of whom have long favored Republicans but who staged a revolt against the president Tuesday by voting for Democratic candidates.
The road to the White House ultimately depends on a handful of states. Two years ago, Trump secured his victory by winning two big prizes, Ohio easily and Florida narrowly, and then carrying Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by less than one percentage point in each state.
On Tuesday, voters in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania backed Democratic candidates for both governor and Senate; in Wisconsin and Michigan, they reversed eight years of GOP rule in the governor’s mansion.
At the least, the Democratic victories provided a morale boost, and in demonstrating the coalition needed to win, may represent at least a symbolic roadblock to the president as he maps his 2020 strategy. But party strategists acknowledged Wednesday much work remains to be done in those Midwest battlegrounds.
Tuesday’s results in Ohio and Florida serve as a reminder to Democrats of challenges their nominee could face in two states that have provided some of the most hardfought presidential contests of the past two decades. In Ohio, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown won re-election, offering Democrats a model for winning a competitive state with a progressive record and message. But in the governor’s race, Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine defeated Democrat Richard Cordray.
Trump won Ohio by nine points two years ago, and DeWine’s victory continued the GOP’s general dominance in statewide races. Ohio long has been a fiercely contested state, though one with a slight Republican edge.
Florida did what it always does, delivering races as close as any in the U.S. Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis claimed the governorship over Democrat Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, but that race may be heading for a recount, while the Senate contest between Demo- cratic Sen. Bill Nelson and GOP Gov. Rick Scott is heading for a recount.
As one Democrat put it on Wednesday, “We have not figured out Florida, which is a problem.” By that this strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak about his party’s problems, meant Democrats continue to underperform among white voters, especially those without college degrees.
Results elsewhere on Tuesday speak to changes underway in other states that traditionally figure into the competition in presidential races. Democrats again scored well in Virginia, picking up three House seats, benefiting from strong support from suburban voters.
In Colorado, another purple state, Democrats maintained their hold on the governor’s mansion and picked up a suburban House seat. In Nevada, a purple state, Democrats defeated an incumbent Republican senator (Dean Heller) and captured the governorship.
Democrats built their new House majority with victories in suburban territory where Republicans have enjoyed long-standing support.
Trump’s rhetoric, style and divisiveness clearly cost the Republican Party in these suburban House districts and will complicate his prospects for re-election. But Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel argued Wednesday that Democrats must build an urban-suburban coalition through issues like health care and education and thereby prevent the president from driving a wedge between the two constituencies on other issues.
Governor-elect Mike DeWine waves to supporters after speaking at the Ohio Republican Party event on Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio.