This year, Republicans' only hope for statewide victory in states such as Connecticut, Illinois, and Maryland lies in winning sizable margins among the older, mostly white, suburban voters who make up a bigger share of the electorate in midterm years, and are typically more sensitive to tax talk.
The Cook Political Report's David Wasserman detailed in April how, in 2013, Democrat Terry McAuliffe was aided in his off-year Virginia gubernatorial win by support from voters in so-called "Super ZIPs," or those areas dominated by wealthy, well-educated, and predominantly white voters who shied away from Ken Cuccinelli because of his conservative social views. But absent such ideologically polarizing figures, these areas are typically GOP strongholds, and according to census data analyzed by The Washington Post, regions within all three states in question here rank high among areas with big concentrations of such voters.
"Taxes is one of those issues where suburban Republicans—and softer Republican voters who may not agree with Republicans on social issues, but do agree with them on fiscal issues—still tend to trust the Republican Party more than the Democrats," said Republican pollster Rob Autry, who serves as a partner at Public Opinion Strategies.
The tax increases don't necessarily spell doom for Democrats, however. When it comes to tax fairness, Quinn and Malloy have kept themselves afloat by aggressively working to cast Foley and Rauner, both of whom are personally wealthy, as out-of-touch millionaires who can't claim the upper hand on the issue because they themselves pay low tax rates and favor additional tax cuts for the wealthy.
"Bruce Rauner and Tom Foley are trying to join the ranks of Republican governors who have cut taxes for the wealthiest, big corporations, and special interests and paid for it by raising taxes on middle-class families and gutting funding for education," said Democratic Governors Association spokeswoman Sabrina Singh. "Voters recognize these misguided priorities when they see them, which is why they're siding with Democrats who are working to build an economy that works for everyone."
Democrats are also working to demonstrate they care about voters' pocketbooks by lining their platforms with pitches to raise the minimum wage and close the gender pay gap.
Lee Schalk, the state government affairs manager at the National Taxpayers Union, believes taxes will inevitably be part of any electoral equation, no matter the degree to which Democrats focus on other issues.
"Voters are going to the polls because they're concerned about issues that affect their pocketbooks, whether it's in governors' races or on ballot measures," Schalk said. "It's playing a factor and it's a pretty significant factor."