Democrats see evidence of suburban voters losing their patience with President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE and his policies, and believe they can capitalize in next year’s midterm elections.
Coast-to-coast victories for the party in Tuesday’s off-year elections, particularly in Virginia, highlighted the vulnerabilities of Republicans in suburban districts, these Democrats say.
It also offered proof that making an election about Trump can help Democrats and hurt Republicans in the suburbs.
“We have a historic chance to win back Congress by making Donald Trump the issue in [congressional] districts,” said David Wade, the Democratic strategist who served as a chief of staff to former Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryThe Memo: Trump’s troubles deepen as voters see country on wrong path The continuous whipsawing of climate change policy Budowsky: United Democrats and Biden’s New Deal MORE.
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“You can’t allow any Republican incumbent to separate themselves from Trump’s brand, period. Whether it’s his failed promises, or his inability to do anything for the suburbs on basic quality of life issues from middle-class taxes to health-care costs to wages, you need to draw a straight line from the Republican incumbent to Trump.”
Trump didn’t do particularly well in the suburbs in 2016.
In Pennsylvania, for example, Clinton out-performed former President Obama’s 2012 tally in Philadelphia’s suburban Chester and Montgomery counties.
In the end, those failings didn’t hurt Trump in the race against Clinton because of the huge victories he ran up among rural and small-town voters in the state. He became the first Republican to win Pennsylvania in a presidential race since 1988.
But in next year’s midterms, Trump could be a weight on Republicans representing affluent suburban voters.
Among the top targets for Democrats next year will be Rep. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockLive coverage: House holds third day of public impeachment hearings Gun debate raises stakes in battle for Virginia legislature Progressives face steep odds in ousting incumbent Democrats MORE (R-Va.), who represents a district bordering Washington, D.C.
The results of Virginia’s elections on Tuesday were a warning sign for Republicans representing such seats. Voters in Fairfax County gave Democrat Ralph Northam a 37 point edge over Republican Ed Gillespie in the gubernatorial contest.
“Transactionally, things are going in our direction and a lot of it is reaction and rejection of Trump, including women and certainly white suburban voters,” said former Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.).
In New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy cruised to victory in part on a strong showing from the suburban counties near New York and Philadelphia.
“For all the talk about Democrats needing a better message and trying to win over Republicans, the bottom line is that opposing Trump turned out the vote and turned off suburbanites to the GOP,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.
“The vote on Tuesday shows that the GOP is actually paying a real cost for Trump and there is now a powerful pocket of voters who can offset Trump’s support in rural, exurban, older areas.”
Tauscher, who served as a surrogate for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE during the 2016 election, said Democrats need to build on the anti-Trump sentiment by offering voters a more comprehensive message.
She warns that Democrats can’t just ask suburban voters, and those in other parts of the country, to vote for them because it could lead to Trump’s impeachment.
“It’s more than taking back the House so we can impeach Trump,” she said. “As [Rep.] Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.] has said, we need a comprehensive message on jobs, the economy, health care and national security and we need to get back to our values.”
Democrats have underscored Tauscher’s views in recent days, saying their party can’t just focus on being the resistance to Trump. They say Democrats need to give voters a message to support the party, not just to vote against Republicans and the president.
Wade acknowledged that Democrats need to find the right candidates who speak to voters: “Having acceptable candidates who fit their districts is important,” he said. “We can’t disqualify ourselves before we start the race.”
But he said what drove voters to the polls in this election — and likely what will lure them back during the midterm elections next year — is the leader of the Republican Party.
“Let’s not pretend this is going to be anything but a referendum on Donald Trump,” Wade said. “Ralph Northam didn’t just win out of abundance of charisma or because he had a vision. He won because Donald Trump was a millstone around Gillespie’s neck and Northam himself was acceptable to voters.
“We can’t be afraid to do that everywhere because with a president whose approval ratings are at a historic low, that’s how you win.”