From Mike Espy in Mississippi to Beto O’Rourke in Texas, Democrats fell short in high profile races in the South. But the races were more competitive than normal, and politicos say that could spell trouble for Republicans in 2020 and beyond.
"The Republicans must have the South. So, there is an opportunity for Democrats to force Republicans to invest more time and resources into places that they should naturally have with little effort," said Joel Rubin, President of the Washington Strategy Group and a former Democratic political operative.
Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith defeated Espy by almost 8 points. That might seem like a wide margin, but Republicans tend to do a lot better in Mississippi. President Donald Trump won by 18 points in 2016, and Republican Sen. Roger Wicker won re-election by 20 points this year.
“President Trump had to go to Mississippi three times. Imagine if President Obama had to go to Massachusetts three times. It’s unnatural for that kind of time, resource allocation for the President to be going to the Deep South,” Rubin said.
Ted Cruz won in Texas by less than three points, Brian Kemp beat Stacey Abrams in Georgia by just 2 points and in Florida Ron DeSantis edged out Andrew Gillum by just .4 points.
Republicans held on in tight races where candidates made significant gaffes. In Mississippi, Hyde-Smith joked about attending a public hanging, causing massive backlash in a state with a deep history of lynchings.
"It’s clear that we’re entering into a breaking point in these races when it comes to racial issues. They’re coming up to the surface, there’s a lot of talk about it. It’s very overt, it was very overt in Florida in the governor’s race as well and it is impacting our political discourse, it’s also mobilizing voters," Rubin said.
And that proved to be a motivating factor for voters. Texas, Georgia, Florida and Mississippi all saw a big spike in voter turnout this election cycle particularly from black and minority voters as well as women.
"The trends in the south are fascinating, there’s an increasing participation among African Americans. There are new urban areas, growing urban areas, diversifying those states which historically have been very red. It still hasn’t tipped yet, but clearly there are trends now, which these states are becoming more potentially purple than they were just a few years ago," Rubin said.
Although Republicans have held on to their southern strongholds, the changing demographics of the region could enable future Democratic candidates to score the upsets that eluded the party in this election. If the Dems can keep mobilizing their base, Republicans are going to have to spend a lot more time, money and energy to keep control of the south.