In many ways, the election results last week, specifically the races in Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania, have noteworthy implications for Republicans and Democrats going into 2020. However, both parties must be wary before drawing absolute conclusions from these results.
In Kentucky, Democrat Andy Beshear appears to have defeated unpopular Republican Governor Matt Bevin, who still refuses to concede, by a thin margin of 5,000 votes. In many ways, this victory is indeed significant, particularly because Bevin ran a national campaign and consistently linked himself to President TrumpDonald TrumpJulian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy Overnight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Five takeaways from Arizona's audit results MORE. Not only did Trump make several statements of support for Bevin, but he also held an eleventh hour rally with the Kentucky governor in an effort to ensure this reelection.
However, given that Bevin is profoundly unpopular among the residents of Kentucky, Democrats need to proceed with caution and refrain from using this race as a bellwether for the electability and political weight of Trump. As governor of Kentucky, Bevin commissioned some wildly unfavorable policies. Earlier this year, he backed a reform that cut pensions for new teachers and funding for education, which resulted in massive teacher protests that closed down every public school across the state.
Further, Bevin also sought to add premiums, copayments, and work requirements to the state Medicaid program, all while threatening to cancel the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which sought to expand health care to 400,000 individuals in Kentucky. Moreover, Republicans scored some wins in Kentucky, succeeding at flipping the attorney general and secretary of state positions.
In a state that Trump won by a margin of 30 points in 2016, this unique race in Kentucky should not be taken as an unconditional indication of his potential in 2020. However, Democrats can and should take the election results in Virginia as a victory for the party. For the first time since 1993, Democrats won control of both chambers in the legislature and governor, allowing them to redraw the state legislative boundaries after the census next year, all but solidifying the future of Virginia as a blue state.
Virginia Democrats won with voters in the suburbs, capturing the districts outside of Washington, in Richmond and notably in Fairfax County, the largest jurisdiction in the state, where the last Republican lawmaker was defeated. Virginia Democrats had successfully attacked the Republican incumbents for failing to take moderate stands on issues like gun control, especially after the devastating Virginia Beach shooting, and highlighting their voting records against popular Medicaid expansion policies.
Democrats were also able to garner support by linking Republican officials to the president, who once had a seemingly insurmountable majority in the Virginia House of Delegates when he was elected. According to Five Thirty Eight, more people voted in Virginia than in any state legislative election since 1976, a fact that should concern Republican leaders.
In Pennsylvania, a state that will certainly be crucial for Democrats to win in 2020, a wave of Democrats scored victories in traditionally Republican strongholds. For the first time since the Civil War, Democrats won control of the Delaware County Council and entirely removed Republicans from the governing body. Pennsylvania Democrats also won a majority on the suburban Chester County Board of Commissioners, a county where Republicans outnumber Democrats, for the first time in history.
Turning out the voters in swing state suburban districts is of paramount importance for Democrats in 2020. Indeed, the election results last week indicate that Republicans may have something to be worried about as they battle Democrats for this critical portion of the electorate. “I would urge the Trump campaign to look into the bleeding in the suburbs,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has been an ardent supporter of the president. “It is just a dynamic you cannot ignore is real.”
While these election results should by no means serve as a predictor of what will happen in 2020, it is significant that the unpopularity of Trump trickled down into local and state elections, resulting in many bedrock Republican localities becoming blue. Generally speaking, this has critical implications for future elections. Local races now seem to be decided less on the merits of regional issues, and more on the overarching partisan platforms that are coming from an increasingly polarized Washington.
To be sure, Republicans will likely alter their tactics as 2020 approaches. Therefore, Democrats need to refrain from overconfidence and should take nothing for granted in the face of an unpredictable president.
Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. He is a political consultant, Fox News contributor, and the author of “Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership.”