When polling places began to close on the east coast on November 6, D.C. pundits were talking about the lack of a “blue wave” and the reality of Republicans’ political strength across the country. By the time polling places began closing on the west coast, that talk quickly ceased. And by the time the Nevada results began going live later in the night, that “blue wave” was suddenly looking very real and very big.
Why did it take so long for the election results to turn in the Democrats’ favor? Let’s take a cross-country trip to compare Nevada’s results to those in other states, and to figure out why the “blue wave” washed over some states while leaving others high and dry.
The “Oh?” in Ohio
In August, Democrats were heartened by a near-tie in a special election for a U.S. House seat that stretches from Columbus to parts of rural eastern Ohio. While Troy Balderson (R-Ohio) ultimately won that election in the 12th Congressional District (OH-12), his margin was ultimately 0.8% once all the ballots were counted. And since Danny O’Connor (D) was also running in the November election, some Democrats held onto hope that O’Connor could overcome that 1,680 vote deficit and finish the job.
That didn’t happen. While Balderson turned in another underwhelming performance for a Republican in that district, he did manage to widen his margin of victory to 4.5% in November. And while Democrats also came close in a Cincinnati area district, they ultimately failed to flip that seat or any other (heavily gerrymandered) Republican held seat in the Buckeye State. Meanwhile statewide, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) won reelection by 6.4% over a lower-tier opponent while all other Democrats running statewide lost.
Though Democrats rebounded quite strongly in other Great Lakes and Midwestern states that President Donald Trump flipped from the Democratic column in 2016 (think Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin), those states have a combination of major metropolitan areas where Democrats ran up the score (think Philadelphia and Detroit) and smaller cities where Democrats recovered much of the margins they lost in 2016 (think Scranton and Erie). Though Democrats ran up the score in the Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati regions, the needle barely budged in the smaller cities and rural areas where Trump cut deep into Democratic margins and flipped counties from blue to red.
Is “The Solid South” still all that solid?
During the Jim Crow era, “The Solid South” regularly delivered its electoral votes and Congressional seats to Democrats, but only so long as national Democratic leaders didn’t challenge these Southern states’ racial segregation regimes. But when Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson began to align themselves and the party more with the civil rights movement, “The Solid South” shifted. By the 2000’s, “The Solid South” had completely realigned as a valuable bulwark for President George W. Bush and Congressional Republicans.
Two weeks ago, Republicans were cheering their enduring strength south of the Mason-Dixon Line thanks to their victories in Florida. Like Ohio, Republicans successfully overcame substantial Democratic margins in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa-St. Petersburg, and Tallahassee regions by running up the score in exurban areas like Pasco and Volusia Counties.
However, other Southern states aren’t looking quite as rosy for Republicans. Republicans were forced to sweat a competitive Gubernatorial race in Georgia, and they ultimately lost the very suburban Atlanta House seat that they had successfully defended in a special election just last year. And while an exceptionally aggressive gerrymander saved all their House seats in North Carolina, Republicans nonetheless lost the overall popular vote and a pair of ballot initiatives that were meant to solidify Republican control over state government.
And then, there’s Virginia: One year after Republicans lost the Gubernatorial race and over a dozen legislative seats in spectacular fashion, they suffered several more blows in this election as U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) defeated neo-Confederate fetishist Corey Stewart (R) by double digits, scandal-plagued Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Virginia) lost his Virginia Beach based district, and Republicans lost two other House seats in the D.C. and Richmond suburbs. As we witnessed here in Nevada and elsewhere, Democrats’ “suburban surge” has allowed for a remarkable realignment in the Old Dominion.
And finally, how the West was won (for Democrats)
As we discussed on Monday, that “suburban surge” paid some very handsome dividends for Democrats in my original homeland of Orange County, California. From Yorba Linda to San Clemente and everywhere in-between, Democrats will represent the entire county in Congress for the first time in over eight decades. Though Republicans had previously thrived under Orange County’s demographic mix of college-educated professionals and vibrant communities of color, Donald Trump’s xenophobic platform and the Republican Party’s increasing antipathy to California in general proved to be too great of burdens for them to overcome in the county previously known as “Nixonland”.
However, it was not just Orange County. In Arizona, Democrats picked up a Senate seat, a House seat, and three more statewide offices thanks to growing strength in the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas. In Colorado, Trump’s toxicity played a hand in Democrats sweeping all the statewide offices and flipping a suburban Denver House seat that had previously eluded them. In addition, Democrats also flipped House seats in New Mexico and Washington State.
Once we factor in all these developments elsewhere, both the Nevada results and the shift in the perception of the overall national results make more sense. In states with whiter and more rural-heavy populations, Trump’s enduring base of support helped Republicans (except in places like Montana and New Mexico, where Democrats have worked harder to make inroads in rural communities). But in states with more diverse populations, higher shares of college-educated voters, and better functioning Democratic party and progressive movement infrastructure, the results were very different. And this time, Nevada showed the rest of the nation how it’s done.