Stephanie Valencia, a co-founder and the president of EquisLabs, a Democratic firm studying Latino voters, told me that dislike of Trump “is not enough” to guarantee bigger turnout. “Democrats cannot afford to rest on the fact that Latinos hate Trump and question his moral character and question his handling of the issues that matter to them,” she said. “We need an aspirational vision of what this country can be, and not just how we are going to stop Trump from being president.”
The other challenge facing Democrats is that both non-college-educated and college-educated white voters in the Sun Belt have traditionally leaned more conservative than they do in the Rust Belt. In 2018 exit polls, Trump’s approval rating among both groups was higher in the Sun Belt than in the Rust Belt, with the gap especially wide among college-educated white voters.
Read: Brace for a voter-turnout tsunami
Still, Democrats’ wins in suburban House races across the Sun Belt—as well as the results of the Senate contests in Texas, Arizona, and Nevada—showed clear cracks in the once-impregnable Republican dominance among white-collar Sun Belt voters.
Hausman argues that Democrats must now try to capitalize on those openings and capture state legislative chambers there. Frey agreed, noting that having control of redistricting could provide Republicans their final “wall” against the growing diversity that is mostly driving the population growth in the Sun Belt. Focusing primarily on suburban seats within major metropolitan areas, Hausman’s group is mounting an effort to flip Republican-controlled chambers in Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, and Florida.
Democrats are focusing heavily on those same diverse and white-collar areas this year as they target Republican-held House seats in North Carolina, Georgia, and Texas, as well as GOP-controlled Senate seats in Arizona, Colorado, Texas, and Georgia. On the presidential level, they envision Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina as fallbacks if they can’t recapture any of the Rust Belt battlegrounds from Trump. (Democrats are also hoping to significantly improve their presidential performance in Texas and Georgia, though both remain long shots for 2020.)
Nicole McCleskey, a New Mexico–based Republican pollster, acknowledged to me that a recoil from Trump, particularly among women, has hurt the GOP in the Southwest suburbs. But she remains optimistic that the GOP can hold Texas and Arizona in both the Senate and presidential contests, noting that Republicans easily carried the governor’s elections in both states last year, despite the nationwide Democratic tide.
Once those suburban voters “put a face to what the Democratic Party is really about, it becomes a much more uphill struggle for them,” she told me. “In these suburban areas, when you start talking about what does Medicare for All mean for you, cost for you, I think it changes the face of what this election is about.”