Rep. Scott Taylor, R-Va., was one of the most widely quoted GOP lawmakers in the wake of Tuesday night’s Democratic victories in Virginia, New Jersey, and beyond.
“I don’t know how you get around that this wasn’t a referendum on the administration, I just don’t," Taylor told reporters at vanquished Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie's election night party. "Some of the very divisive rhetoric really prompted and helped usher in a really high Democratic turnout in Virginia."
Taylor was back at it on CNN on Wednesday morning. "I think last night was a referendum [on President Trump]. I don't think there was any way you could look at it a different way, to be honest with you, and be intellectually consistent,” he said.
The 38-year-old freshman Republican congressman representing Virginia Beach has reason to worry. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the Democrat Virginians elected on Tuesday to serve as the commonwealth’s governor, won 51 percent of the vote in Taylor’s district.
For Republicans, the next shoe to drop is whether Democrats can replicate their success in the suburbs in 2018. That’s why there was so much focus on the special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District over the summer: The theory was that Democrats could capture the support of suburban, college-educated voters who have cast ballots for Republicans in the past but are turned off by Trump.
That suburban Atlanta congressional district had voted comfortably for Mitt Romney and John McCain, among other recent Republican presidential candidates. It had, in various forms, been represented by Republicans in Congress since Newt Gingrich’s first term in 1979. Trump won it by just 1.5 points in 2016.
It didn’t quite work out for the Democrats in that Georgia race, although they raised a lot of money, exceeded recent past performances, and nearly prevailed in the first round of balloting. They lost all four competitive special House elections this year before finally experiencing a breakthrough Tuesday.
Not only might Taylor be in danger, but the results didn’t look good for Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., already a top Democratic target in 2018. Northam won 56 percent of the vote in Comstock’s district.
Then look at the at the Virginia House of Delegates races, where few expected such big Democratic gains. Republicans held the comfortably Trump districts in the lower house of the state legislature. But Democrats won 15 of the 17 Republican-held districts that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
If Democrats can take this act nationwide, it bodes well for their fortunes next year. Their path to wiping out the 24-vote Republican majority in the House begins with the 23 Republican-held congressional districts won by Clinton. It then extends to the districts Trump carried by small margins, many of which bear a demographic resemblance to the places in Virginia where Democrats did well this week.
Northam won 51 percent of college-educated whites in Virginia. Phil Murphy, the Democrat elected to replace Chris Christie as governor of New Jersey, took 52 percent. “Pretty hard to hold on to some of these suburban districts with Dems winning those numbers,” said a Republican strategist who advises House candidates.
New Jersey is a bit harder to pin on Trump, given the state’s overall Democratic tilt and Christie’s epic unpopularity after two terms in office. Still, four-fifths of those who disapprove of the president’s job performance voted Democratic.
Garden State Republicans will have to defend the House seat held by Rep. Frank LoBiondo, who retired this week, as well as at-risk incumbent Reps. Tom MacArthur, Leonard Lance, and Rodney Frelinghuyse.
It is noteworthy that Taylor and Lance were among the Republicans scheduled to appear at a press conference pressing their colleagues to act on passing legislation to protect Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program beneficiaries after Tuesday’s election. Other suburban Republicans include Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, as well as retiring incumbent Reps. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, Dave Reichert of Washington, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida.
California is also an area where Republican members of the House delegation are in jeopardy. Rep. Darrell Issa barely won last year in a district Clinton won. Eight GOP incumbents are considered at-risk in all in the nation’s most populous state, where Trump is bitterly unpopular.
The suburbs last turned against Republicans when then President George W. Bush’s approval ratings were in decline over a decade ago. Democrats won the Virginia and New Jersey governorships in 2005 before retaking Congress the following year.