For the fourth election cycle in a row, Republicans are licking their wounds after a contest that resulted in bipartisan agreement that the party underperformed across the nation.
The Nov. 7 elections concluded with Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear winning re-election in the conservative stronghold of Kentucky; Democrats winning full control of the state legislature in Virginia; Democrats expanding legislative majorities in New Jersey; a Democrat winning a state Supreme Court seat in the key battleground of Pennsylvania; and Ohio balloters voting to approve an amendment enshrining abortion in the state’s constitution.
Republicans did enjoy a handful of bright spots. In New York, GOP candidates flipped Suffolk County, gaining total control for the first time in 20 years, and picked up a seat in the Bronx, where the party hasn’t been represented in 40 years.
However, the losses the party faced in the other races has political insiders cautioning that this week’s results could be a harbinger for more Democrat wins next year in the 2024 election.
As seen after previous elections, Republicans and conservatives have been engaging in finger-pointing, blaming everyone from former President Donald Trump to Republican National Committee (RNC) Chair Ronna McDaniel for this year’s election results.
“They’re looking for scapegoats,” National GOP consultant David Carney told Timcast News.
Carney says while it’s in vogue to criticize the RNC for local and statewide election losses, putting responsibility for local losses on a national political organization ignores reasons why campaigns actually lose.
“Anybody whose solution is ‘I’m gonna win this election because of what the DNC [Democratic National Committee] does or RNC does,’ that’s a train-wreck. They don’t do anything. They’re a legal entity that basically nominates candidates for president,” said Carney. “Why would a state senate race in Virginia be the fault of the RNC? Could they put more money in? Possibly. And that would have been helpful. But I wouldn’t blame them specifically.”
The primary responsibility for electoral results, he argues, rests with a candidate’s campaign apparatus and its decisions on where to spend money and what issues to prioritize.
“The winner is the one who does all those things better: best candidate, best messages, best organization,” he said.
It’s difficult to look at these various races, which he says are “hyper-local,” and try to paint a national picture.
Brian Seitchik, a GOP strategist, says the reason Republicans have been underperforming since Trump’s election win in 2016 has to do with suburban voters who have become increasingly disenfranchised with the party.
“You know, Democrats had a lot to be pleased about,” said Seitchik, speaking to Timcast News about this week’s Democratic victories.
“Obviously the Kentucky results, the Virginia results, they won in Pennsylvania. But more importantly, when you get under the hood a little bit, you see that Democrats did well in suburban counties, and that really has been a sore spot for Republicans since 2016,” Seitchik added.
“In 2016, when the suburbs of Phoenix, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia all broke for Trump against Hillary Clinton, Republicans obviously had a great night,” he said. “Since then, ’18, ’20, ’22, we’ll add ’23 to the list, those suburbs have not come home.”
Redistricting has played a role in making suburban areas more competitive. Republicans in some states have sought to maximize their representation by drawing districts through the suburbs to connect GOP-friendly rural areas to Democratic urban centers, putting remaining Democratic votes into fewer safe seats. This, however, means that suburban Republican districts are vulnerable to population and demographic shifts, David Cottrell, assistant political science professor at the University of Georgia, told Bloomberg.
Additionally, U.S. suburbs are seeing an influx of college-educated millennial residents, who are more ethnically diverse and tolerant on social issues.
“And the big question for next year, you know, those folks used to be college-educated Republican voters, the last couple cycles have been swing voters: are they still swing voters, or are they hard anti-Trump voters that are not coming home?” Seitchik said. “Because if we as Republicans, and by that I guess I mean likely Donald Trump as the presidential nominee, if he can’t win back those college-educated voters, even more so college-educated women, we simply cannot win those swing states next year.”
Political Shifts on Social Issues
Leslie Marshall, a Democratic strategist, says that over the past six years, there have been shifts resulting in more voters aligning politically with the left on social issues.
“Well, a few things stand out for me,” she told Timcast News of the Nov. 7 election results. “One, you can’t believe the polls. And the approval rating of Joe Biden we saw from the midterms, and then we saw from [Election Day] does not impact voters, whether they’re voting for state house and senate, gubernatorial seats, city mayoral seats, on a federal level or on a state level regarding a decision like Roe v. Wade, for example.”
Marshall explained that since 2016, polling has been “very hard to believe” because its commonly understood that things are going to be tight because America is a nation divided nearly exactly down the middle. Additionally, she mentioned whether people believe someone is popular or not on either side, supporters are going to still vote for them.
“Because what’s the alternative?” She asked. “If a Democrat is mad with Joe Biden about the Middle East, do you really think they’re going to vote for Donald Trump, or stay home and let Donald Trump win on a national level?”
She added, “And we’re seeing that in these races. I mean, with the exception of Manchester, New Hampshire, which was a win for a Republican, I mean, nearly all of these races were victories for Democrats and many of them in red or red-leaning states.”
On social issues, the U.S. is now seeing voters reorient themselves toward the political left, in particular on issues like abortion and the legalization of marijuana, which both just passed on ballot initiatives in the conservative state of Ohio.
“You’re also seeing, like in Kentucky, a democratic governor,” she said. “And people would say, ‘Well, you know, he was elected before.’ But if there’s so much outrage against the left and the country being pulled left, you wouldn’t see these easy victories for some of these candidates.”
Marshall also points to the first openly transgender lawmaker in Virginia, as well as black candidates, and female candidates who now hold certain offices for the first time as “not just a win for Democrats,” but rather, “a win for the changing demographics of this nation.”
Carney, who served as White House political director for George H.W. Bush and has worked political races all over the country, says that fundraising is playing a role in Democratic victories, as the party mobilizes donors across the entire U.S., not just in a candidate’s home district.
In recent cycles, Democrats have held a fundraising advantage that has given them a limitless pot of money, he explained.
“They are just pouring millions of dollars into state legislative races all across the country and outspending Republicans,” said Carney.
Though Tate Reeves, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Mississippi who was on the Nov. 7 ballot, pulled off a win, national Democrats outspent Republicans 7-to-1 on the race.
Republicans need to “figure out a way to try to compete with raising national money for local cares. It’s just something that’s going to be required,” Carney cautioned.
More donor money is needed in state and local elections to help those candidates be more competitive. “Everyone loves to give money to presidential races and Super PACs,” said Carney. “But we could have much more influence at the state level if we spent a third of that money that’s been wasted on Super PACs this cycle for presidential candidates who aren’t going to win, if we’d spent those in legislative races across the country.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Never Back Down PAC sat on a war chest of roughly $130 million in the first half of this year. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) brought in more than $37 million in fundraising for his re-election campaign and entered the 2024 presidential race with $22 million. Former Vice President Mike Pence pulled in $2.7 million in the first six months of the year.
“But, if a third of that had been devoted to these races [on Nov. 7], I think the results could have been different,” said Carney.
Seitchik is less bullish on the idea that fundraising will play a key role in a presidential contest between Trump and Biden, in part because both men are known quantities.
“I’m fond of saying that money doesn’t guarantee you a win, but no money guarantees you a loss,” he said. “We can all go through the motions of Super Tuesday, but if Trump wins the first two [primary] races, this thing is over.”
But these are folks that are already clearly defined by the electorate. You know, we haven’t had a repeat of a Republican versus Democrat since 1956 — Dwight Eisenhower and Adelai Stevenson.
We haven’t had two presidents — one incumbent, one former — running against each other since Grover Cleveland in the end of the 19th century. So, money matters on the margins, and I get this race comes down to the margins. But people know who Trump is, they know who Biden is, certainly there’s a threshold that has to be reached to get your message out, to pay for the ground game and all of the voter contact. But each of those candidates is going to have more than enough money to be heard.
I’m not sure how much the actual spend at the top of the ticket matters. I think the fundraising numbers are emblematic of the enthusiasm. It’s significant in being able to read the tea leaves of where the electorate is, but the dollars actually spent by those two, each of them is gonna have plenty of money.
I don’t know if Joe Biden spends $25 million more than Donald Trump if that’s really gonna have a serious impact, considering these are going to be the two most defined nominees we’ve ever had.
Another takeaway from the Nov. 7 election is that the issue of abortion will undoubtedly play a significant role in 2024, if for no other reason than it will likely boost voter turnout for Democrats.
“I think what it comes down to is overturning Roe v Wade was very unpopular, even for people who are pro-life,” said Marshall. “Because there are people who are — and I’m not talking about ultra-religious right-wing Republicans/evangelicals — I’m talking about, I have friends, for example, that are pro-life in that they would not make that choice for themselves, but they do not feel that they have the right to make that choice for me.”
Despite the concerns of those who believe abortion is morally wrong, a vast majority of the country — including Republicans — still support it. Roughly two-thirds of Americans (69 percent) say abortion should be legal in the first trimester.
“And they very much feel it’s an individual choice between that person, their family, their doctor, their God, and that they don’t wanna be involved in that,” Marshall explained. “And poll after poll shows that.”
She added that multiple exit polls in Ohio show that voters are not happy about the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade, reiterating that people have erroneously believed that as time passes voters will largely forget about the decision and accept a post-Roe country as the new normal.
“I know people think the farther away you get from the decision, it’ll peter,” she said. “These election results showed that that’s just not true. And I don’t think it’ll be petered out — the anger, or the emotions, or the beliefs — by the general election in November of 2024.”
Carney notes that the issue of abortion isn’t necessarily as straightforward as it’s presented online and in the media. Often clouding the conversation is confusing language used in the wording of abortion ballot initiatives, like the 2022 ballot in Kansas, which was “written by a committee of f—ing lawyers,” as he stated.
Experts have said the language on Kansas’ referendum for a constitutional amendment on abortion was purposefully misleading.
As outlined by The Guardian:
Ballot: The ballot says a “yes” vote would “affirm there is no constitutional right to abortion.”
Reality: To be clear, a “yes” vote changes the Kansas constitution and takes away the constitutional right to an abortion.”
Ballot: The ballot says a “yes” vote would be the “government funding of abortion.”
Reality: Kansas already bans taxpayer money from funding abortions.
Ballot: The ballot explicitly mentions what kind of exceptions an abortion ban could have, like for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
Reality: This vote does not stop the legislature from passing a complete abortion ban, with no exceptions from rape, incest or life of the mother.
Ballot: Ultimately, the ballot language sows confusion in an effort to push people to vote “yes”.
Reality: A “yes” vote means the state constitution would no longer protect abortion. A “no” vote means the state constitution would continue to protect abortion.
“It made no sense,” Carney explained. “No one even understood what it was. But, you know, when people go into the voting booth, it’s really much more about how the ballot is presented and what the arguments are.”
Ohio presented a similar case this year, where the language was not even close to a simple up-down vote on abortion. The state’s Issue 1 ballot included language well beyond abortion, codifying a state constitutional right to “make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to decisions about abortion, contraception, fertility treatment, miscarriage care, and continuing pregnancy, and allow the state to restrict abortion after fetal viability.”
“I mean, you read that ballot language, it isn’t just about abortion,” said Carney. “It’s about all essential healthcare. I don’t know how anybody voted against that.”
Not all consultants and analysts are in agreement, however.
Seitchik says the problem is not per se Republicans’ messaging on abortion, but that the party needs to try and avoid the subject entirely.
“Certainly abortion is now a more motivating issue for Democrats than it is for Republicans. So, I’m not sure if it’s necessarily that a message has to change. It’s [that] Republicans need the electorate to focus on other things,” he explained, while adding that there are other issue sets that could be more important to voters next year.