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Democrats likely to focus on college-educated suburbanites

Democrat Phil Murphy leaves Fairview Elementary School in

Democrat Phil Murphy leaves Fairview Elementary School in Middletown, N.J., after voting Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. Credit: AP / Bob Karp

Last week, in New Jersey, Democratic Gov.-elect Phil Murphy dominated in his state’s suburbs of New York City and Philadelphia.

In Virginia, Democrat Ralph Northam was boosted to victory in the statehouse by voters who live along the border with Washington.

In New York, the Westchester and Nassau county executive seats turned blue with George Latimer and Laura Curran.

Now, Democrats look to ride the wave of wins to control of the House in 2018 and political experts said they should and will focus their resources on college-educated suburbanites.

“There’s no question that the path to the majority goes right through suburban battleground congressional districts,” said former Rep. Steve Israel of Huntington, who once chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and now leads the Global Institute at LIU Post.

“The narrative of this election is middle-class economic anxiety,” he said.

One year out from the midterm elections, observers and elected officials on both sides of the aisle agree that the Republican Party’s fate at the polls is tied in large part to that of its tax overhaul package.

The legislation, which President Donald Trump wants to sign by Christmas, is its best chance at a first major legislative victory after a year as the party in control of both the White House and Congress.

If it fails or stalls, as its efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare have, GOP voters may stay home.

If it passes, Republicans may have some reprieve at the polls.

But if it becomes law and eliminates state and local tax deductions, Republicans in high-tax regions may feel the backlash.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in the election’s aftermath that the GOP should take stock.

“It should be a giant stop sign for their tax bill,” he told reporters Wednesday. “Where did they get clobbered? In the suburbs. Where does the tax bill clobber middle-class and upper-middle-class people? In the suburbs.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) spoke about Ed Gillespie, the GOP gubernatorial candidate who was defeated in Virginia. “I feel bad that he lost, but I think it simply means we’ve got to deliver,” he said Wednesday.

Ryan added later: “When we do this, make good on our word, make good on our promise, make people’s lives better, we’re going to be just fine politically.”

Historically, the president’s party suffers defeats in the midterms, but experts said a wave isn’t a foregone conclusion.

Democrats need 24 seats to regain a majority in the House.

There are 23 Republican-held congressional districts that voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton last year, including those in the suburbs of Philadelphia, San Diego and Houston.

But the DCCC, buoyed by Tuesday’s turnout, has expanded its “battlefield” map to 91 districts, including more won by the president.

The DCCC also is taking aim at Republicans in high-tax states such as New York and New Jersey, including Rep. Peter King — notwithstanding ratings of his seat as safely GOP and his past margins of electoral victory as sizable.

King of Seaford said he believes voters will look at his record as a whole and called Long Island “less susceptible to waves or tsunamis.”

In 2010, the first midterm election of Barack Obama’s presidency, Democrats lost a net 63 seats nationally but incumbents on Long Island were re-elected, he noted.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a newsletter of the University of Virginia’s Center of Politics, doesn’t consider King’s seat in jeopardy and designates Shirley Rep. Lee Zeldin’s district as “likely Republican.”

The newsletter’s managing editor, Kyle Kondik, said he believes some GOP-held suburban seats nationally to be at risk but said they aren’t all created equal.

“Look at the percentage of residents with a four-year degree or better,” he said. “The higher the percentage, the likelier it may be to fall in a wave-style environment, of course, also taking into account the basic partisanship of the seat.”

Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, called suburbs on the whole a reliable bellwether.

“The Democrats can continue the momentum if they remember that the swing voter in the swing districts is moderate, nonpartisan,” he said. “Dynamic demographic change is bringing more new immigrants and other minorities to the suburbs and for now they’re voting Democratic.”

With Tom Brune

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