National ‘surprises’ from Election Day are not locally surprising

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Red state Kentucky elected a Democrat governor!

The Virginia state legislature flipped to all blue for the first time in decades!

Former Speaker of the U.S. House Tip O’Neill made “all politics is local” a fixture in campaign slogan departments across this country in the 1980’s, and it has been parked there ever since. I’ve used the slogan countless times myself over the years and believed it to be true all of those times. Not anymore.

Politics is sometimes national these days, and that trend will likely continue to grow for the foreseeable future. The two Tuesday outcomes I cite represent change, but certainly do not represent surprise. There are clearly local and national elements to both.

Let’s be honest, Governor Matt Bevin from Kentucky, by most accounts is the most unpopular governor in the country. He won by nine points in 2015, and has spent his entire first term offending voters in the Bluegrass State. Joseph Gerth of the Louisville Courier Journal described him as “the nastiest man ever to hold the governor’s office in Kentucky.” I’m not sure where that sells in America, even these days, but I won’t insult the people of Kentucky by comparing Bevin’s manner to residents there. That’s not how I would describe any Kentuckian, with the exception of a short list of college basketball coaches.

Kentucky is a Trump state. Trump came to Rupp Arena Monday night to try and rally Bevin across the finish line. The president’s team doesn’t like him supporting candidates who lose, and they assumed that Bevin’s overly optimistic polling was correct. They assumed that the dysfunction of the state’s Democratic Party would keep their turnout down. President Trump stuck his neck out for someone he already thought was going to win because that’s how he always does it.

He underestimated the impact being a jerk can have on voters. I know, I know, it is amazing Trump doesn’t recognize this. It’s the brand he and Bevin share.

In Virginia, the wave election of their legislature and their governor’s office actually took place two years ago. The Republican candidate for governor in 2017 hitched up to the Trump train and got thumped by current Governor Ralph Northam. The large majorities held by Republicans in both the Senate and the House of Delegates were shrunk almost to even splits in both chambers. What happened this week, was a continuation of that trend. The small majorities Republicans held there disappeared, and that was predictable. What was the policy issue that contributed as much as any there? Republicans’ unwillingness to entertain any new gun policies in a special session following the Virginia Beach mass shooting in May.

Trump didn’t campaign in Virginia. Even his team knew the Democrats were going to have a good week there and that his national brand couldn’t overcome the local reality that voters in the state are changing.

Suburban voters are no longer committed to the Republican party. These areas were clearly difference makers in Kentucky in the areas outside of Louisville, Lexington and Covington (suburban Cincinnati). Same for Virginia, with suburban Washington and Richmond. Even in Indiana, Democrat Emily Styron won the mayor’s office in Republican stronghold Zionsville, while Carmel and Fishers added Democrat council members.

Are these changes local? Yes. Are they also influenced by national politics?  Absolutely. We know this because it is happening in virtually every suburban area in the country, and likely will continue.

Even Vice President Mike Pence’s hometown, Columbus, Indiana, now has a Democratically controlled city council for the first time in 36 years! This is a fun headline for people who aren’t from around here, but this too should not surprise people. Why shouldn’t Columbus voters vote for Democrats?

What is happening at the national level actually is forcing people at the local level to rethink their loyalties. That does not always lead to a switch, but the mere consideration of voting differently is leading to different outcomes.

It happened in 2016 with the surprise election of Donald Trump, and more than half of the country has disapproved of his performance since March of 2017. That disapproval has grown steadily since. Pundits have been saying that Republican voters and members of Congress may not like Trump’s Twitter feed, but they like his results. That perspective has clearly worn thin in suburbia, and the exhaustion from that national phenomenon is having an impact in local politics.

What actually would shock me would be if this obvious trend stops or even slows anytime soon.

 

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Michael Leppert

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