There were several elections of interest around the country on Tuesday, and the Democrats got the best of it. It’s easy to overstate their performance, and what it might portend for the rest of the country next November, but the Republicans would be wise not to underestimate the damage.
Virginia was a Republican stronghold from the ’60s until recently, but after Tuesday’s races the Democrats are firmly in control of the state. They already had a Democratic governor and lieutenant governor, and now the party holds every other statewide office and have majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. The Republicans had retained control through two presidential elections when the Democratic candidate easily won the state’s electoral votes, but that was mostly due to some nifty gerrymandering, which wasn’t enough to overcome the overwhelming majority of votes cast throughout the state for the Democrats and will likely go away when the Democrats get a chance to redraw the maps next year.
The recent problems in Virginia are part of a worrisome trend for the Republicans in the country at large. Affluent and highly educated suburbanites have been abandoning the party in droves since President Donald Trump was elected, and although the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and Richmond are more hostile than most Republicans have also lost congressional seats in Kansas and other reliably red states. Virginia also has a growing number of Latinos and a sizable and politically engaged black population, and they’re also averse to the party of Trump, who was not invited by any Republican to cross the bridge and do some campaigning.
Trump was gratefully welcomed to give one of his famous rallies in Kentucky, a state he easily won in the presidential election, but despite his efforts Democratic challenger Andy Beshear wound up with more votes than incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. The margin was slight enough that Bevin has refused to concede defeat, which is what one expects of Republicans in the age of Trump, but even if he’s able to litigate and recount his way to a slim victory it’s still an embarrassment for his party. Trump can rightly blame Bevin for being a failed governor and unpopular candidate, and he surely will, but he won’t be able to boast of his enormous appeal in Kentucky, and there’s still that nagging problem of the big cities and their suburbs going for the Democrats.
There was some good news for the Republicans in Mississippi, where Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves beat Democratic state Attorney General Jim Hood by a solid if unspectacular score of 52-to-46 in the gubernatorial race. The Republicans’ problems with suburbanites and racial minorities was stark there, too, and the blatant appeals to white working class resentment that worked well enough in Mississippi might not fare so well elsewhere in the country.
Meanwhile, here in our humble hometown of Wichita, a larger-than-usual turnout in our nonpartisan local election ousted an incumbent mayor who is generally assumed to be a Republican and replaced him with a state representative is known to a Democrat. There are all sorts of peculiarly local reasons for the outcome, involving such matters as a ballpark and a big bucks water contract and plans to tear down some locally beloved buildings and pay some well-connected local businesses to put up something new, but it’s still notable that such a reliably Republican state as Kansas has a Democratic governor and its biggest city has a Democratic mayor, not to mention a Native American lesbian kick boxer Democrat as a congresswoman for the suburban and educated 2nd District up by Kansas City.
Next November is far, far away, and there’s no telling how awful the Democratic presidential nominee might be, but it’s hard to see the Republicans reversing some worrisome trends that keep revealing themselves in all the post-Trump election results. Perhaps Trump can find some way to ingratiate himself to those affluent and highly educated suburbanites and the racial minorities closer to the heart of town, but he has to keep stoking the racial resentments of his white working class base at the same time, and he’s not much for nuanced arguments. He’ll also be preoccupied with that pesky impeachment inquiry, which seems to turn up further damning testimony every day, and from the halls of Congress to the Wichita Republican headquarters his party seems in disarray.
— Bud Norman