Despite Democratic zeal over Tuesday’s special election results, it’s far from clear where Americans stand on the Republican Party and the 2020 presidential vote. Nevertheless, Tuesday’s results in Kentucky, Virginia and suburban St. Louis serve as a warning sign to Republican incumbents who think that hitching their wagons to President Donald Trump’s star will help them retain their elective offices. Voters made clear on Tuesday that they are not lemmings who automatically support anyone who wears a MAGA hat.
Particularly noteworthy was the decision by voters in Kentucky to oust incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in favor of Democrat Andy Beshear. In pre-election campaigning, Bevin went to extraordinary lengths to identify himself as a stalwart Trump backer. Trump traveled to Kentucky on the eve of the vote, referring to it as a referendum on Trump himself.
Bevin had plenty of his own negative baggage to turn off voters, but it didn’t help to associate himself with a president who faces increasingly damning evidence of impeachable offenses and whose own popularity continues to sag among women, minorities and suburban voters. Republican strategist Liz Mair, writing in The New York Times, asked GOP candidates if it’s such a smart idea to continue inviting Trump to their rallies. She also raised big concerns about the political fortunes of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, given that his approval ratings in the state are only slightly higher than Bevin’s.
In Virginia, voters handed Democrats full control of state government for the first time in 25 years. The seats that flipped from red to blue were mainly in suburban areas. Likewise in Missouri’s 99th state House district, just west of St. Louis, suburban voters opted to fill a long-held Republican seat with a Democrat.
No, it doesn’t mean the Missouri Legislature is anywhere close to flipping to Democratic Party control. But the result does mean that suburban voters — who tend to be better educated, more solidly middle class and who monitor news events more closely than their rural counterparts — are scrutinizing Republicans’ records more closely. GOP incumbents can no longer assume that blind support of Trumpism will carry the day.
The 99th state House district includes a chunk of Wagner’s congressional district, including her hometown of Ballwin. Wagner, who publicly shunned Trump in 2016 when his views about sexually abusing women were revealed, later reversed herself. She’s now one of his staunchest loyalists in Congress. Wagner prevailed in 2018 over neophyte Democratic challenger Cort VanOstran, but the election turned unexpectedly into a nail-biter. While the 99th District is only a small portion of Wagner’s district, Tuesday’s vote could be a warning sign that voter antipathy to Trump is translating into antipathy for Republicans. After all, why support a party that doesn’t uphold its own basic values?