Dem gains put Sunbelt in play for 2020

Dem gains put Sunbelt in play for 2020

Democrats made major gains across the Sunbelt in the midterm elections, changing the political landscape in states like Arizona and Nevada ahead of the 2020 elections.

The party netted many of those gains by winning over Republicans in the suburbs and aggressively courting minority voters, a coalition that could spell trouble in Southwestern states for President TrumpDonald John TrumpConway defends herself against Hatch Act allegations amid threat of subpoena How to defuse Gulf tensions and avoid war with Iran Trump says 'stubborn child' Fed 'blew it' by not cutting rates MORE's reelection prospects and Republicans protecting their Senate majority.

In Arizona, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema became the first Democrat to win a Senate seat in more than three decades in a state that Trump narrowly won in 2016, while the party also gained a majority of the state’s congressional delegation.

In Nevada, Democrats tightened their grip on the purple state by picking up a Senate seat, a handful of statewide races and the governor’s mansion for the first time since 1994.

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Meanwhile, Democrats made significant House gains in the GOP strongholds of Texas and Southern California.

For strategists, the wins reflect a widening rural-suburban divide where growing populations of college-educated voters, particularly in the suburbs, are rejecting Trump to help buoy Democrats.

“The changing demography and growth in urbanization … creates a huge barrier between the message Trump’s putting out there and what those voters want,” said David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Democrats believe that replicating these wins in the Sunbelt region in 2020 could help offset Midwest states that appear to be slipping further from Democrats. 

Both Sinema and Sen.-elect Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenKey endorsements: A who's who in early states Female senators hatch plan to 'shame' Senate into voting faster Lawmakers introduce legislation to improve cyber workforce funding MORE (D-Nev.) relentlessly focused their messaging on health care and protections for pre-existing conditions coverage, drawing sharp contrasts with Republican opponents who had backed GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.

Meanwhile, Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyHispanic Caucus seeks to retain voice in House leadership Nikki Haley blasts Roy Moore's Senate bid: 'He does not represent our Republican Party' McSally on Moore running for Senate again: 'This place has enough creepy old men' MORE (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE (R-Nev.) embraced Trump throughout their primaries and in the general election in hopes of driving out the Republican base — a strategy that ultimately proved unable to overcome the Democratic advantage. 

By defeating McSally by less than 2 points, Sinema pulled off one of the biggest victories for Democrats in 2018, handing the party its first Senate win since 1988.

Sinema, who cruised to the Democratic nomination, achieved the victory by running a relentlessly centrist campaign from start to finish, including on immigration, fending off McSally attacks that she was too liberal for the state, such as with frequent attacks that highlighted Sinema’s past as an anti-war protester.

By campaigning on her moderate record in the House as a Blue Dog Democrat, Sinema not only won over more independents, but also got a decent amount of crossover voters who backed a Democrat for Senate but Republican Gov. Doug Ducey for reelection.

Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, played a big role in those victories.

“It’s pretty stark where Sinema and Ducey did well and McSally didn’t: the suburban areas in Maricopa County, with suburban female voters and moderate independent voters. That’s where I think that was the culmination,” said Mike Noble, an Arizona-based Republican pollster.

“We’re really an independent state at the end of the day.”

Sinema's victory could improve Democrats' prospects in the 2020 Senate race, which will be held to fill the remaining two years of the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainVeterans group to hand out USS John McCain T-shirts for July 4 on the National Mall Will we ever have another veteran as president? Meghan McCain clashes with Joy Behar as the 'sacrificial Republican' on 'The View' MORE’s (R-Ariz.) term expiring in 2022.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R), who was appointed by Ducey to fill McCain’s seat, has remained mum on how long he’ll serve out the remainder of his term, though he’s previously expressed a desire to vacate it before the 2020 special election.

McSally is seen as a potential replacement for Kyl, who heaped praise on the GOP congresswoman in a recent interview with CNN. 

Meanwhile, Nevada is getting a bluer hue after Rosen's victory gave the state two Democratic senators, while Gov.-elect Steve Sisolak is set to become the first Democratic governor in Nevada in nearly 25 years. Three out of four of its House seats are still held by Democrats.

Rosen unseated Heller, the only GOP senator up for reelection this cycle that hailed from a state carried by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck The Memo: All eyes on faltering Biden ahead of first debate Trump says he's not prepared to lose in 2020 MORE in 2016.

Like McSally, Heller was a critic of the president in 2016, but developed a working relationship with Trump in 2018, supporting the administration's health-care and tax-reform agenda.

But the votes cost Heller. Rosen pounded Heller on his votes to end ObamaCare, winning over critical suburban and college-educated voters.

While the race appeared close heading into Election Day, strong early voting totals in Washoe County, home to Reno, showed the contest trending toward Rosen, who ended up winning by 5 points.

And Democrats won their largest margins of victory in Nevada's 3rd and 4th Districts, among the state’s most competitive House races, where Democrats were protecting open seats vacated by Rosen and retiring Rep. Ruben KihuenRuben Jesus KihuenMembers spar over sexual harassment training deadline Nevada Dem sanctioned for sexual misconduct announces city council bid Dem gains put Sunbelt in play for 2020 MORE.

The party also had a substantial number of House gains in the Sunbelt that contributed to the party’s still growing majority.

In Texas, Democrats flipped two longtime Republican seats in the suburbs of Houston and Dallas, while another race is too close to call in the expansive border swing seat held by Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdOvernight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Senate panel advances bill to protect government devices against cyber threats House passes amendment to block funding for transgender troops ban MORE (R-Texas).

Democrats came up short in the Lone Star State’s nationally watched Senate race, but Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) lost to Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward Cruz Hickenlooper, Bennet bring deep ties to 2020 debate stage 2020 Democrat Bennet releases comprehensive government reform plan GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers MORE (R) by less than 3 points, fueling hopes for future statewide races, including Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats give Trump trade chief high marks GOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks MORE’s (R) reelection race in 2020.

And Republicans suffered a rout in Southern California, where Democrats look set to flip six out of the seven GOP-held seats that Clinton won in 2016.

Orange County has been a Republican stronghold in the deep-blue state, but steady demographic changes and high concentrations of college-educated voters eroded the GOP’s hold in that part of Southern California.

The wins have given Democrats hope headed into 2020, with some in the party arguing that it’ll be necessary to make states like Arizona, Texas and Georgia real battlegrounds that can help offset losses in Midwestern states like Ohio.

“Investment in Arizona and the Sunbelt is sort of crucial for opening up new opportunity for presidential campaigns,” said Democratic strategist Andy BarrGarland (Andy) Hale BarrDemocrats set to use McConnell's legislative graveyard against him 58 GOP lawmakers vote against disaster aid bill Dying on the track: Horse racing is at a crossroads MORE, who worked on House races in Arizona and California.

“It’s going to become imperative since some traditional battlegrounds are trending away from us in a way I don't think we can stop.”