Our suburban state: Tilting the balance

In a flurry of House elections on Tuesday Democrats turned out in droves and significantly over-performed expectations by posing serious challenges to Republicans in staunchly GOP districts. In Ohio’s 12th district where  Dem. O’Connor appears to have lost by 1 point, his likely gains came in white-collar suburbs, among college-educated white voters who have been alienated by the president. The turnout in rural areas, where Trump has some of his most enthusiastic supporters, was mediocre. 

New Jersey has plenty of white-collar, college educated  suburbs, both Republican where some are alienated by Trump, and Democratic where they are blue supporters. There is always a tug of war between rural and urban areas, you see it dramatically in Democratic CD 5, but it is in the Republican-held suburban areas where House Dems are challenging the GOP, fighting to gain some of their votes as well as those of the unaffiliated. New Jersey, has been described by Democrats and Republicans as the most suburban state in the country. Here the revolt has been especially muscular and has put into play four or maybe five Republican-held congressional seats that until this year had hardly been on the Democratic radar.

NJ’s overall population is 73% White, with a median household income of $71,637, and with 42% of people over 25 years of age holding a bachelor’s degree or higher. In these five Republican districts all have a higher per cent of Whites, all but one has a higher average median household income, and  two of the districts have a higher number of residents who hold at least a bachelors’s degree.  They are quite different from Democratic urban strongholds where there are more people of color, lower median income, and fewer with bachelor degrees or higher. 

CD 02: Open seat, long-held by Frank LoBiondo (R). Jeff Van Drew (D) vs. Seth Grossman (R). Here the Democratic candidate is not so much reliant on a white-collar highly educated electorate. The district is classified by the census as the least urban (17%). 75% are White but most are working class. Among the five districts, the median household income of $60,756 with 25.8% holding a bachelor’s degree is the lowest. It includes the urban Atlantic City but also suburbs surrounding it and elsewhere in the district. Long-held by the sometimes moderate Republican incumbent, Obama won in 2012 but it swung to Trump in 2016 by 4.6 points. Nonetheless with the Dem candidate being the most conservative of NJ challengers and a weak Republican candidate, Cook Report rates it as Likely Democratic. 

CD 03: Incumbent Tom MacArthur (R) and Andy Kim (D). As you move numerically up each CD number, the constituents become increasingly wealthier and better educated. Here 80% are White, the median income is $74,537, already above NJ’s average, with 34% holding a bachelor or higher degree. Obama won in 2008 and 2012, but it swung to Trump in 2016. Its suburbs must include some alienated Republicans who disagree with the incumbent’s embarrassingly strong support of Trump on such matters as the ACA. Although the incumbent has a virtually unlimited source of money (his own) the Cook Report has it Lean Republican, so there is a fighting chance for Andy Kim to pick up alienated Republicans and deliver a win. 

CD 04: Long-time Incumbent Chris Smith (R) and Josh Welle (D). Here the White population is 85% (the highest of the districts), the median income is $78,511, and 39.6% have at least a Bachelor’s degree. However, it’s the most Republican-leaning of all districts where Trump won by 15 points. For Josh Welle winning over some White, well-educated, suburbanites is possible, but it remains the most difficult NJ race for the challenger. So far it is not considered in play by the raters. 


CD 07: Incumbent Leonard Lance (R) and Tom Malinowski, (D). The White population is 79%, the median income is $106,879, and 51.3% hold a Bachelor’s degree or higher. This northern suburban swing district is the only one Clinton won in 2016, although by just 1 point. Its suburbs include Springfield and Summit. The incumbent has been clever enough to hold Town Halls and sound more moderate than before. Dem Tom Malinowski, nonetheless is also somewhat moderate, is endorsed by Obama, has Red to Blue support, and should be able to pick up alienated voters. The Cook Report rates it as a  Republican Toss Up. 

CD 11: Open seat, long-held by Rodney Frelinghuysen (R). Mikie Sherrill (D) vs. Jay Webber (R). In this highly suburban district Whites represent 82% of the population with the highest median income of $108,260. (Median income, different from average income, indicates that half of the population has a higher income and the other half less, and here many have far more than $108,260.) 54% hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. Its residents have long voted for Republicans (Obama lost here twice) but they moved more toward Democrats in 2016 when Trump won, but  by just 0.9 percentage points. Sherrill, a former navy pilot and prodigious fundraiser runs against a very conservative candidate who might have won in past years, but has now probably met his match. The Cook Report rates it as Likely Democrat.

In a nutshell Note that none of these blue candidates are considered safe winners. They all need our support. These contested Republican districts where Democrats cannot rely just on blue voters hold plenty of White, suburban, well-paid, well-educated Republican residents ready for the pickings – a group which could make the difference between winning and losing. Other factors, of course are in play, but getting their support and having them turnout (particularly the women) can tilt the balance. In doing so we also play a key role in flipping the House and putting the brakes on Trump.

Main source: US Census Bureau: My Congressional District

Comments (2)

  1. Dvd Avins

    How safe is Gottheimer, in a district that was Republican until 2016?

    1. Bill Orr (Post author)

      He is rated likely Dem by Cook Report. He has a weak challenger (MAGA type) and has millions of dollars. He lost last time in his conservative rural counties, but won in the suburban Bergen county where he has more voters. As a fiscally more conservative/moderate he attracts some traditional Republicans and unaffiliated. As socially progressive he picks up the liberals. I think he will win, but he needs strong turnout in the more progressive Bergen County. The district overall has been trending Democrat in the past few years.


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