Ron Brownstein at the Atlantic makes the argument that for Dems to win, they definitely need black voters and high turnout. But to win the House back through gerrymandering, dog whistles, and voter suppression, Dems need college-educated white voters, and in Virginia and New Jersey this week, they did that.
The soaring wave of discontent translated into solid turnout and crushing margins for Democrats in their key voter groups, all of which have expressed intense resistance to Trump in polls. Although they declined in number from last year’s presidential race, Millennials slightly increased their share of the vote in both states compared with the 2013 gubernatorial races there. Sixty-nine percent of those young people gave their votes to Northam, and 75 percent gave their votes to Murphy. That’s a chilling trend for Republicans, given that more Millennials will be eligible to vote than baby boomers in 2018 and 2020. Turnout among African Americans, Latinos, and other minorities was also solid. In both states, Democrats carried roughly four out of five non-white voters.
But the principal engine of the Democratic sweep was a suburban tsunami in white-collar communities in Northern Virginia, Northern New Jersey, and even the suburbs of Seattle, where Democrats convincingly captured a state Senate seat that flipped control of that chamber to them. Those results will surely unnerve every U.S. House Republican holding a well-educated suburban seat.
“Tonight, college-educated white voters … collectively stood up and said, ‘Enough,’” said Jesse Ferguson, a former communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “If I was a Republican representing a suburb, I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight because there’s a storm brewing.”
Four years after Republican Chris Christie carried almost two-thirds of whites in New Jersey with at least a four-year college education, Murphy won 52 percent of them. In Virginia, Democrats had won between 42 percent and 45 percent of college-educated whites in each of their recent victories there, including Barack Obama’s in 2012, Governor Terry McAuliffe’s in 2013, Senator Mark Warner’s in 2014, and Hillary Clinton’s in 2016. But Northam blew past them to capture 51 percent of college-educated whites against Republican Ed Gillespie.
That emphatic shift undoubtedly reflected a backlash against Gillespie’s turn toward Trump-like themes of cultural confrontation on so-called “sanctuary cities” and Confederate monuments. But it also quantified how much of a potential burden Trump poses for the GOP among those well-educated voters: Fully 58 percent of Virginia’s college-educated whites said they disapproved of his job performance in the exit poll.
Not only did white-collar voters shift toward the Democrats, but they also registered their discontent in astonishing numbers. Northam won populous and affluent Fairfax County by about twice as many votes as McAuliffe in 2013 and Warner in 2014—and, incredibly, by even more than Obama in 2012. Northam bested the McAuliffe and Warner margins by 50 percent or more in Arlington and Alexandria counties just outside of D.C. Just as important, the stampede toward the Democrats extended to suburban Richmond counties, including Henrico and Chesterfield, where the GOP had remained much stronger than in Northern Virginia. It also extended down the ballot to the state House of Delegates. Democrats not only captured several open seats, but they also defeated enough Republican incumbents holding suburban seats to create a dead-even split in the chamber, pending recounts.
“In these urban areas, Trump has taken over the Republican brand, like it or not,” said former Republican Representative Tom Davis, whose district was in Northern Virginia. “The immigrant [policy], his language, his rhetoric—everything is tailored here to that white, non-college[-educated] base in everything he does. He just has no appeal to those suburban people, either personally or politically.”
It's a fair argument, as much as it makes me grumble trying to rely on "college-educated" voters who somehow thought Donald Trump was a good idea for the country. But the Obama coalition does include younger white voters who turned out for him in 2008 and 2012. Maybe 2016 was an error on their part and we need them in 2018 to expand the base.
They failed us a year ago on their judgment of Trump. Let's try for them, but we cannot depend too much on them going forward and must continue to prioritize efforts to expand the number of voters of color instead.
Meanwhile, Tuesday's ass-kicking in Virginia means the number of GOP congressional retirements ahead of 2018 is now up to 30.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said Thursday that he will not seek reelection, becoming the latest in a string of GOP lawmaker retirements.
Goodlatte, 65, is the third term-limited House committee chairman to announce his plans to leave the chamber within the past week.
"With my time as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee ending in December 2018, this is a natural stepping-off point and an opportunity to begin a new chapter of my career and spend more time with my family, particularly my granddaughters," Goodlatte said in a letter to supporters.
Goodlatte's district is pretty safely in GOP hands, but not as safely as it was on Monday. We'll see.