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Tuesday elections show Trump coattails are mostly rural, experts say

POTUS reelection effort hinges out turning out base in greater numbers

President Donald Trump rallied Monday night in Lexington with Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, who appears to have lost his reelection bid. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump rallied Monday night in Lexington with Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, who appears to have lost his reelection bid. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Tuesday’s election results show Republican candidates should be wary of nationalizing their races and the Trump campaign continues to hemorrhage voters that have long been under the GOP tent, political experts and strategists say.

Though analysts still see President Donald Trump as a formidable candidate as he seeks a second term, some say Republican candidates in suburban areas should resist “nationalizing” their races the way Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin did. The Republican state chief executive ran as a true Trump Republican — but appears to have lost his reelection bid to Democratic state Attorney General Andy Beshear.

“No one energizes our base like @realDonaldTrump,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted Tuesday night.

Election results from several states Tuesday evening delivered mixed results for Trump and left some scratching their heads about just how long his coattails are going into the 2020 cycle. But he remains an asset to GOP incumbents and candidates in Republican strongholds, they say, meaning the Trump brand could be key in driving up turnout in deeply red counties there and in a handful of swing states.

“They still say all politics are local, but all politics are becoming nationalized,” said Patrick Murray, director of polling for Monmouth University. “In areas where Trump is already strong, he’s getting stronger. Blue states and areas are getting bluer. The big question is in purple states. Who shows up? Who’s motivated?”

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Independent and many Republican voters in suburban areas went for Democratic voters in the 2018 midterms and did so again on Tuesday in areas outside major cities in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The president and White House officials were quick to downplay Bevin’s loss.

Kellyanne Conway, a former GOP pollster and now a top West Wing adviser, noted Republican candidates won the other statewide races in Kentucky and: “I think the president made that governor’s race competitive.”


Experts noted Bevin was extremely unpopular, with GOP strategist Evan Siegfried saying “it was like he was doing everything he could to lose that race.”

“This was a case where Republicans and Democrats might be right,” he said. “Democrats are right that the president wasn’t enough to help Bevin, but Republicans are right that they had a very big night there otherwise.”

Marc Hetherington, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina, said the president has a habit of injecting himself only into close races he concludes the GOP candidate ultimately will win.

“That a Republican lost a statewide election in Kentucky is stunning during this polarized time,” he said Wednesday. “What does seem clear is that hitching one’s wagon to a guy (Trump) with 40 percent approval — despite the best economy in a decades — might not be a great strategy in swing states,” Hetherington added.

One political strategist, granted anonymity to speak candidly, said the biggest trouble for the president lies within the data about suburban voters. Voters who are younger than 40 years old, suburban women who are married and mothers, and older voters are fleeing Trump’s coalition, this strategist said.

“Some polls show the president is underwater with seniors. I think we’ll find out — once we have all the voting data from yesterday — that Republicans were underwater with seniors in the suburbs,” the strategist said. “There has certainly been a GOP brand-tarnishing, and many people would blame President Trump for being the cause of it.”

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Analysts and strategists agreed the results only intensified a shared conclusion among Trump campaign officials and Democratic political operatives that 2020 will be a turnout election, with both sides trying to drive up enthusiasm among their bases.

“What we are seeing in yesterday’s results, as well as in the 2018 results, is both sides can be motivated. That means we’re likely on the way to a massive, record turnout in 2020,” Murray said.

To that end, Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics noted turnout Tuesday in Fayette County was high — that includes Lexington and the University of Kentucky, and went to Hillary Clinton in 2016. “Bevin did poorly there, which helped contribute to his loss,” he said.

In GOP strongholds, the president remains something of a dynamo, and likely will help Republicans in close races, Kondik said. “Trump can better claim rally success in Mississippi, where Tate Reeves won and did well in Northeast Mississippi, where [a recent Trump] rally was held,” he said, referring to that state’s Republican lieutenant governor who won the gubernatorial race there.

That’s the kind of voters Trump and his campaign team are honing in on, hoping big numbers of conservatives will offset the trend of suburban GOP flight.

“The president is stronger in red states, and he’s betting that he can attract even more rural voters next November,” Murray said.

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