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A Blue Tsunami Hit VA, But White Working Class Voters Could Still Halt A 2018 Democratic Wave

In one room the Democrats are drinking champagne, while the Republican room is downing bourbon. The Democratic Party rode a massive blue wave that demolished the Republican Party in Virginia’s election, and they could retake the lower House of Delegates Chamber. They gained 13 seats, mostly in districts where Clinton won, which some have said offer a window into the 2018 midterms. It’s not good. Yet, Nate Cohn of The New York Times had a reality check on the Democrats’ string of wins in the Trump era. He agrees that we have the conditions for a blue wave next year, but there are a few caveats (via NYT):

The big surprise of the night was the huge Democratic surge in Virginia’s House of Delegates, but that also came in Clinton Country. Of the 16 districts where Democrats currently lead in Virginia, Mrs. Clinton won 15 of them and received 49.7 percent of the vote in the other, according to data from the Virginia Public Access Project and Daily Kos Elections. Twelve of those 15 districts voted for Mrs. Clinton by at least five points.

Just because Tuesday’s victories came in states or districts won by Mrs. Clinton doesn’t mean they can be dismissed, however. College-educated white voters, paired with nonwhite voters, could profoundly endanger the G.O.P. in traditionally Republican, upscale districts.


The catch, though, is that the overwhelming Democratic strength in well-educated areas did not cross the political divides of the 2016 election and reach into white working-class areas. In fact, Mr. Northam, a Virginia Military Institute graduate with a strong Southern pedigree, didn’t even come close to matching Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Mr. Obama or Senator Tim Kaine in rural western Virginia. Democratic State Assembly candidates didn’t run well ahead of Mrs. Clinton, either.

Yes, the political divisions of the 2016 presidential election wound up working pretty well for Democrats in Virginia, a highly educated state. But that might not be the case for Democrats in a lot of the rest of the country. There are only 11 Republican-held congressional districts in the United States where Mrs. Clinton won by five points or more. Even if Democrats swept those 11 districts, it wouldn’t get them that far toward the 24 seats they need to flip the House.

To my surprise, it’s not obvious that a rerun of the Virginia House of Delegates election on a national scale would yield Democratic control of the House. Without greater strength in areas that supported Mr. Trump, it would still be a tossup.

Now, take what you will from this; frankly, it shows how Democratic white working class voter outreach could guarantee them solid wins. Another aspect is that Democrats don’t want to reach out to these people, who they’ve already relegated to the trash bin of history, which may not bode well in other states that Hillary Clinton did not win in 2016. Even Democrats recognize the limits of the Virginia wave, though some GOP operatives still see it as a “canary in the coal mine.” The best way to improve chances of the GOP holding on is getting the Trump agenda through Congress (via WaPo) [emphasis mine]:

“Donald Trump is an anchor for the GOP,” said veteran party strategist Mike Murphy, a Trump critic. “We got that message in loud volume in Virginia. The ­canary in the coal mine didn’t just pass out; its head exploded.”


But other party leaders warned against drawing overly broad conclusions about Trump and his political strength from defeats in a handful of states — including two, Virginia and New Jersey, that Democrat Hillary Clinton won in last year’s presidential election.

“Democrats say this is a repudiation and this is an anti-Trump vote, but to me the case doesn’t stick,” said Robin Hayes, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party. “Donald Trump is extremely popular in a lot of places. His promise to ‘drain the swamp’ resonated and still does.”

Said Gov. Bill Haslam (R-Tenn.): “When you see one night of elections, you see one night of elections. There is always natural wind at your back if you’re not in the White House, and wind in your face if you are.”

Still, even among Trump’s allies, there were complaints about the White House being dis­engaged and unready to deal with the party’s mounting challenges.

“The White House isn’t paying attention to the suburbs, and there has never really been a political operation there,” said Edward J. Rollins, the strategist for the Great America Alliance super PAC, a pro-Trump group. “They have to develop a strategy where it’s not just Trump alone winning, where the whole party is able to win.”


“Virginia is a microcosm of a large portion of the nation, but it doesn’t represent every community or every state,” said Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.). “We have to make sure that we are fighting for the people where they’re at — in the rural and urban communities — and reflect their struggle to have better lives.”

Ruiz added, “Running purely against Trump is not the full picture.”

Democratic leaders have echoed that sentiment, saying the party must develop its own affirmative message and must strive to connect with voters everywhere, in particular regions where Trump remains popular.

There remains a lot of work to do in reaching those small-town or rural Democratic voters,” Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) said. “They are the ones who need to hear from us, too. Those are the voters our party has had a problem with over the years. We need to speak to them about the lack of wage growth and the opioid crisis. We may not even win in those areas, but we could narrow the margins.”

Republican strategists said the party’s image has suffered from nearly a year of stalemates, fits and failures to govern, despite the party’s control of both chambers of Congress and the White House. That is one reason the proposed tax code overhaul has taken on such urgency among GOP leaders.

Yeah, but a big chunk of that reform in the Senate version—cutting the corporate tax rate—is delayed until 2019, and now we have to deal with infighting over the removal of the adoption tax credit. Make no mistake; this was a wake up call for the GOP. Remember, we’re around a year out from the midterms, Democrats still have fundraising issues and candidate recruitment issues in some races where the GOP is ripe for the picking, and there’s that white working class wall in middle America that could halt a Democratic takeover of the House. Yet, there are a couple reasons why we could hit DEFCON One-level alert. First, read Guy’s analysis, where he notes that swing districts are not Trump districts, and that the notion that local GOP candidates can self-isolate away from the rancor in Washington is a fallacy. Second, we’re experiencing a deluge of GOP retirements:

It also comes amid an exodus of House Republicans. This week alone, Reps. Frank A. LoBiondo (N.J.) and Ted Poe (Texas) announced they would not seek reelection next year, joining a list of more than two dozen colleagues who are retiring or running for a different office. Democrats see many of those vacancies as ripe territory as they look to win back the House majority. Democrats will need to capture 24 additional seats next year to reach the 218-seat threshold to control the House.  

LoBiondo’s district will definitely go blue, Poe’s district leans that way being on the outskirts of Houston, Texas, and now Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) has announced he’s retiring. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), who represents the 10th district in Northern Virginia, is in serious danger of being knocked off. Rep. Martha McSally is diving into the Senate race in Arizona, but her district leans blue; it’s Gabby Gifford’s former district. If anything, the GOP defections and the inability to pass legislation could be the accelerant that lights the GOP on fire in 2018. We have time to correct this; I’m holding out hope.  

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