Sanford: 'It carries real weight' to speak against Trump 'while in office'
Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump
Senate Republicans are warning that this week's Democratic victories in Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania should serve as a "wake-up call" for President Trump and the rest of the GOP heading into 2020.
While some Republican lawmakers have tried to minimize Tuesday's election results, chalking the apparent loss in Kentucky's gubernatorial race to the unpopularity of Matt Bevin, the GOP incumbent, others say it's time for a course correction.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the poor performance of Republican candidates in suburban areas should spur Trump to reflect on his often-pugnacious style and tone, which has a tendency to turn off female voters in swing suburban districts.
"The suburban losses seem to continue in some places," Graham noted Wednesday morning as Republicans started to digest Tuesday's results. "I think when you look into [it], it's more about tone and style than it is about policy."
He said the president's advisers should pay attention to the continued erosion of support in the suburbs.
"I would urge the Trump campaign to look into the bleeding in the suburbs, absolutely. It's just a dynamic you can't ignore is real," Graham said.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), an adviser to Senate GOP leadership, called Tuesday's results a "wake-up call," especially in terms of the need to win back suburban voters.
"I don't see it as any kind of catastrophic election or anything, but you know wake-up calls sometimes come in a midterm or a primary. And this is probably a bit of a wake-up call to find that way back to the suburban voter," she said.
Asked if Trump needs to reevaluate his tone and style to win back suburban voters, Capito responded with deadpan sarcasm, "You think?"
"I'll leave it at that," she added with a laugh.
Kentucky's Democratic gubernatorial candidate, state Attorney General Andy Beshear, largely outperformed Bevin in suburban areas. Bevin has since challenged the election results by requesting a recanvass of vote totals.
Democrats also won big in the Philadelphia suburbs. Democratic candidates won all five seats on the Delaware County Council south of Philadelphia for the first time since the Civil War.
In Virginia, Democrats captured the state Senate and House of Delegates by winning races in suburban districts outside of Washington, D.C., and Richmond.
But in order to win back the majority in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 53-47 advantage, Democrats will need at minimum a net pickup of three seats and a White House victory. That path is made more difficult by the threat facing Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who's running for reelection in a state Trump won by 28 points in 2016.
One Republican senator who requested anonymity said Tuesday's Democratic wins in Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania show the GOP majority is at risk.
"I think we'll hold the Senate, but it's no sure thing by any means," said the senator.
Republican pollster Whit Ayres told The Hill that the results from Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania show suburban voters are trending further away from GOP candidates.
"It's a continuation of the pattern we saw in 2017 in Virginia's gubernatorial election and the 2018 midterms. Blue states are getting bluer, red states are staying red and states in the middle are still competitive. But it's hard to reelect with a job approval of 34 percent," Ayres said, referring to Bevin's ratings.
"The suburbs continue to trend toward the Democrats where the Republicans have had a stranglehold for years," he added.
Ayres said statewide Republican candidates can win in swing states such as Maine and Colorado next year but will have to outperform Trump on top of the ticket.
"The senators running in swing states will need to run well-ahead of the president in the suburbs to win reelection," he said.
"And that's possible," Ayres said, noting how Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) outperformed Trump in their home states in 2016.
John Weaver, a GOP strategist and longtime adviser to the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said the election results from Tuesday should set off alarm bells for Republicans.
"We've seen this now in '17, in '18 and in '19, so there's no anomaly here. We've seen Republican suburbs in four or five years go from plus-20 Republican to plus-25 or 30 for the Democrats. They are very blue. The exurbs are turning blue as well," he said.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) said Wednesday that Republicans need to step up their efforts to appeal to suburban voters.
"We've got our work out for us for sure in some of those areas," he said.
Thune said Bevin's poor showing on Election Day was less alarming because his low approval rating signaled to GOP leaders that he would be in serious trouble.
But he said strong Democratic performances in the Virginia and Pennsylvania suburbs was worrying.
"Some of the other results from yesterday were not particularly good for us but that just, I guess, lets us know we got to double down and come up with an argument to help win people back there," he said.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), one of the Senate's most vulnerable Republican incumbents, said the party needs to refocus its efforts on passing legislation.
Asked about the criticisms that fellow GOP senators have expressed about Trump's tone and style, Collins said, "I have long argued that we need a legislative agenda that is positive and that focuses on issues like the high cost of prescriptions that really matter to people."
"I think that would serve us well," she said.
Asked if the GOP focus on its legislative agenda is getting lost at the moment, Collins said, "Yes."
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said Wednesday that she agrees with her GOP colleagues that Trump needs to reevaluate his style and tone to win back suburban swing voters and that Republicans in Congress need to put more focus on passing bills.
"I think they're all right," she said. "We should always take lessons learned from each election and I think that as a party we have recognized that we have seen an erosion of support among women, suburban women."
"I think it's important that we really evaluate where we are and how we're connecting to people because we're not connecting like we need to be in certain of these areas," she added.
Senate Republican leaders have known for months that the party's appeal among suburban voters is key to keeping the chamber in GOP hands.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told a small group of reporters in April that Republicans lost control of the House in 2018 "because we got crushed in the suburbs."
He vowed that wouldn't happen again in 2020.
"We lost college graduates and women in the suburbs, which led in the House to losses in suburban Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Charleston," he said at the time. "We're determined not to lose women, certainly not by 19 points, and college graduates in our Senate races. And I don't think we will."
On Wednesday, McConnell tried to put the best spin on the Kentucky election results by emphasizing that GOP candidates down ballot won their races.
"I can tell you in Kentucky we lost the governor's race by four-tenths of 1 percent, but everybody else running statewide won by big margins," he told reporters. "It's exasperating to lose such a close election, and disappointing. But I don't think Kentucky is turning blue as a result of that."
"We're looking forward to doing well in Kentucky in 2020, and I don't think anything that happened there Tuesday changes that," he added, pointing to the victory of his former legal counsel, Daniel Cameron, in the state attorney general's race.
Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky and a longtime commentator on Kentucky politics, said McConnell's reelection doesn't appear imperiled, but there are some things he should be concerned about nonetheless.
"The ground game that the Democrats put together was highly effective, I think, in turning out their vote," he said, while noting the Democratic voter turnout operation was driven by teachers who had battled with Bevin.