Republican senators differed Wednesday on what lessons to take from Tuesday’s election results that saw Democrats make gains in Kentucky and Virginia while making a strong showing in Mississippi.
Some said there were important warning signs for Republicans – especially the declining support among suburban voters – while others downplayed the results and said they don’t portend anything ominous for 2020, when President Donald Trump and a third of the Senate faces voters.
Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, a Republican of West Virginia, said the results were a “wakeup call” for her party.
“I don’t see this as a catastrophic election night,” she said. “But you know wakeup calls sometimes come in a mid-term or a primary. This is probably a wakeup call for us to find our way back to that suburban voter.”
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second-ranking Republican leader, agreed.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us for sure in some of those areas,” Thune said. “It’s hard to read. In Kentucky, that was candidate specific. But some of the other results from (Tuesday) weren’t particularly good for us. I guess it lets us know that we have to double-down and come up with an argument to help win us back there.”
Thune was referring to Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a brash conservative whose tenure has been controversial. Despite Trump rallying for him the night before the election, Bevin remains slightly behind in the ongoing count against his Democratic challenger Attorney General Andy Beshear, who claimed victory on Tuesday night. On Wednesday, Bevin’s campaign officially asked the commonwealth to recanvass the votes from Tuesday’s election, which will occur next week.
Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican of Maine, needs to read the tea leaves carefully because she is up for reelection in 2020 in a state that’s turning blue.
“If you look at Kentucky, every other statewide position went Republican,” she said optimistically. “I think this was an example of a very unpopular governor.”
Same with Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican of Iowa who faces voters next year. She suggested the results in those states had more to do with local issues than national trends, like the popularity of Trump.
“The decisions are based very much on local issues,” she said, before referencing Bevin. “He’s a very unpopular governor and the people spoke.”
Republican Sen. John Cornyn is up for reelection in red Texas. He insisted the Democratic gains Tuesday were not a response to Trump but acknowledged Republicans have work to do to hold onto and bring back suburban voters, some who have been turned off by Trump.
“The story everyone wants to write is that this is all about Trump. But I don’t buy that. Obviously, all the Republicans won in Kentucky except for Bevin. He had personal problems. So, I don’t agree that this is a bellwether on what’s going to happen in (2020),” he said. “I mean suburbs, we’ve got to worry about the suburbs. We got slaughtered in the suburbs in Texas in 2018.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is also up for reelection next year in Kentucky, said people should not read too much into Bevin’s loss.
“It’s … exasperating to lose such a close election and disappointing. I don’t think Kentucky is turning blue as a result of that,” McConnell told reporters in the US Capitol. “We’re looking forward to doing well in 2020 and I don’t think anything that happened there Tuesday changes that.”
Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican of North Carolina, was asked about Democratic wins in neighboring Virginia, that saw Democrats take both chambers of the state legislature.
“I don’t see a wave there,” he said. “I see that natural cycles that occur in state legislatures.”
Tillis is considered one of the most vulnerable Republicans running for reelection. He acknowledged there is some anti-Trump “mood” in his state but argued its gets trumped by the good economic news generated by Trump’s policies.
“Back in North Carolina, I hear immigration come up,” Tillis said. “I don’t really hear impeachment except for, ‘what the heck are you guys doing?’”
Capito was asked about calls by some Republicans that they need to reevaluate the tone and style coming out of Washington, reference to Trump’s controversial ways.
“Really?” she responded with sarcasm before laughing loudly and dashing off. “I’ll leave it that”