A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Rural Blog: Tuesday’s elections show increasing rural-suburban polarization; Trump’s pull mostly rural

Tuesday’s elections showed an increasing rural-urban divide, with suburban areas serving as battleground areas that trend increasingly blue.

Suburbs helped unseat Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin and gave Virginia Democrats control of both legislative chambers, putting the state under full Democratic control for the first time since 2003. Rural areas of the Old Dominion continued voting Republican, but it wasn’t enough, David Montgomery reports for CityLab.

In Kentucky on Monday, Trump held a huge rally for Bevin, one of the nation’s least popular governors, who appears to have lost to Attorney General Andy Beshear by about 5,000 votes. However, Republicans won almost all of the down-ticket state races, many with more votes than Bevin, Politico notes. The top of the ticket usually gets the most votes and influences lesser races, but in Kentucky many voted Republican in every race but governor.

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Bevin’s long-standing feud with teachers influenced the race; teachers were key to Democrats’ strong get-out-the-vote effort, and many rural Republican teachers reported voting for Beshear, who chose a teacher as his running mate, Moriah Balingit notes for The Washington Post. Bevin’s antagonistic comments about teachers on a sickout “lost the support of many Kentuckians,” said Al Cross, director of The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog.

Kentucky remains Trump country, but its county-by-county shifts from 2015 to 2019 reflected some of the same suburban shifts that helped Democrats in 2018, the Post’s Philip Bump writes. Democrats carried only 19 of the 120 counties, but won most urban counties, which had big increases in turnout.

Another big difference between Bevin’s first and second gubernatorial runs: his support in 2019 was much more polarized on rural-urban lines than in 2015. Bump says the rural-urban split in 2019 looked much like the state’s split during the 2016 presidential election. Hardcore rural Trump voters still showed up for Bevin Tuesday, but higher Democratic turnout carried the day.

Though Mississippi went mostly for Republicans for statewide offices this year, the race for governor was much closer than in 2015, despite Trump holding a rally there last week. Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, lost by less than 50,000 votes to current Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. In 2015, Republican incumbent Phil Bryant (who couldn’t run again this year because of term limits) clobbered Democratic challenger Robert Gray by more than 245,000 votes. Republican performance in the suburban counties near Memphis, Tenn., was considerably lower than in 2015.

Nevetheless, analysts say Trump “remains an asset to GOP incumbents and candidates in Republican strongholds . . . meaning the Trump brand could be key in driving up turnout in deeply red counties there and in a handful of swing states,” John Bennett reports for CQ Roll Call.

On that front, Louisiana will be a state to watch. Trump recently held a rally there in support of Republican gubernatorial challenger Eddie Rispone, who will face Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards in a Nov. 16 runoff election.

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The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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