Whit Ayres, February 22

Whit Ayres’ comments about President Trump and the Republican party were prominently featured in Newsweek, including this observation:

“Virtually every president’s job approval has been driven by the state of the economy,” Ayres points out, but Trump “has severed the traditional link between presidential job approval and economic well-being.” That lends some credence to the president’s argument that he doesn’t get sufficient credit for the economy, though he may be the one who prevents that credit from being tendered. Trump “keeps distracting people from all the good news with his various tweets and conflicts and battles,” Ayres says. “President Trump’s job approval is being driven by his conduct and behavior in office.”

For the full article and additional quotations, please click here.

Whit Ayres, January 29

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Daily Caller on Republican electoral prospects in the face of changing demographics:

Republican pollster Whit Ayres points out that President Bush got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, including a majority of Sunbelt Hispanics. “It’s no coincidence that he was the last Republican nominee for president to win a majority of the vote (in 2004),” Ayers says. “The changing demographics of the country demand Republicans do better with Hispanics if they hope to win nationally. The numbers are the numbers.”

Trump won the presidency with 46.2 percent of the vote, less than the 47.2 percent Mitt Romney got in 2012, when he lost the presidency.

To read the full article, please click here.

Jon McHenry, January 26

Jon McHenry’s comments to The World Weekly on the economy and Republican prospects in the fall:

Republican leaders plan to campaign on economic successes. The US economy has surged in recent months, with GDP up 3.2% in the third quarter of 2017 and unemployment down to 4.1%. Messaging will particularly focus on the Republican tax plan, stressing the tax cuts for the middle class set to start next month – one Republican dubbed it the “Great American Comeback.” “While many Republican accomplishments appeal to the conservative base, more money in people’s pockets appeals to everyone,” says Jon McHenry, Republican pollster, to TWW.

To read the full article, please click here.

The Virginia Election in Six Charts

Democratic nominee Ralph Northam won the 2017 election for Governor of Virginia by the unexpectedly large margin of nine percentage points, 54 to 45 percent. Unlike the Rustbelt states voting for President in 2016, few counties switched from Democrat to Republican since the last Virginia gubernatorial election in 2013. Instead the surprising margin was caused by presidential-level turnout in formerly-Republican suburban counties. Tens of thousands of new gubernatorial voters driven by college-educated women, millennials, and minorities supported the Democratic candidate. Six charts tell the story.

Two rural counties in the Shenandoah Valley are typical of other rural counties throughout Virginia. Augusta County continued its strongly Republican voting pattern, and generated more votes for Republican Ed Gillespie than even for the victorious Republican Bob McDonnell in 2009, or for Gillespie when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014.

The same pattern holds for Roanoke County farther south in the Valley (the City of Roanoke is not included in these numbers). Gillespie received more votes in 2017 in Roanoke County than any Virginia Republican ever in a non-presidential election.

Gillespie did not lose because of lack of Republican enthusiasm for his candidacy. Despite fears of some critics that Gillespie keeping his distance from Donald Trump would depress Republican turnout, that clearly was not the case. So why did Gillespie lose? The next three charts paint a vivid and, for Republicans, challenging picture.

Fairfax County in northern Virginia is far and away the largest county in the state, home to over one million people. In years past it was a competitive but reliable Republican county. Republican Bob McDonnell won the county in 2009 by 4,466 votes. Fairfax switched to supporting the Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe in the 2013 governor’s race by 68,065 votes. But in 2017 turnout exploded, and Northam swamped Gillespie in Fairfax County by 138,059 votes.

Loudoun County, just west of Fairfax in northern Virginia, has surged in population since 2010, and is now the fastest growing county in the state. Loudoun used to be a reliably Republican county that McDonnell carried comfortably in 2009 by 14,566 votes. Gillespie won the county narrowly in 2014 in his Senate race against Mark Warner. But in 2017 Loudoun followed Fairfax with an explosion of Democratic votes. Gillespie actually won 896 more Loudoun votes in 2017 than he did in 2014, but he was crushed by the surging Democratic turnout, losing Loudoun in 2017 by 23,392 votes.

Because the counties where Democrats surged are so much larger than those that continued to vote Republican, the statewide trends reflect those of Fairfax and Loudoun. In only eight years Republicans have gone from winning the Virginia governor’s office in 2009 by 344,614 votes to losing it in 2017 by 233,444 votes. Ed Gillespie won more votes than any Republican gubernatorial candidate in Virginia history, including 12,208 more than the victorious McDonnell in 2009. Yet he was swamped by the historic Democratic turnout.

Who are these voters who surged to the Virginia polls in 2017? It’s hard to imagine the bland candidacy of Ralph Northam generating this level of enthusiasm. Exit polls indicate that the surge came from voters who were trying to send a message to Donald Trump.

Gillespie won overwhelmingly–56 to 41 percent–among the 47 percent of Virginia voters who said Trump was not a factor in their vote. In other words, Gillespie won by double digits among voters who were choosing between the two candidates for governor.

The remaining voters used their gubernatorial ballot to send a message to Donald Trump. Twice as many–34 to 17 percent–sent a message of opposition rather than support. And among those opposing Trump, Northam won 97 percent of their votes. Ed Gillespie lost the governor’s race not because of his campaign, but because one-third of Virginia voters were trying to send a message of opposition to Donald Trump.

What does this mean for Republican candidates in 2018?

It means that every Republican candidate in 2018 will be viewed through a Trump filter. That will not be a problem in districts where Trump enjoys majority job approval. The strategy in these districts writes itself–the Republican is running to support the President, and the Democrat is running to oppose him.

But viewing Republicans through a Trump filter creates a real challenge for Republicans in states and districts where a majority disapprove of the President’s job performance. In those districts, Republicans will need a relentless focus on localizing the race. Republican candidates in districts opposing Trump need to increase the proportion of the electorate that makes a decision between the two candidates on the ballot, not use their ballot to send a message to the President.

Mid-year elections are almost always difficult for the party in power. The 2017 results in Virginia indicate that Republican candidates need to run particularly strong and well-funded races to withstand the headwinds they will face in many states and districts in 2018.

Whit Ayres, January 18

Whit Ayres’ quote in The New York Times regarding the state of play in the 2018 Senate map:

“The Democrats running in the 10 states that Donald Trump carried have all demonstrated an ability to get elected in Republican states, so they obviously have something going for them,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican strategist. “But having the Democratic Party veer further and further to the left makes their lives substantially more difficult.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 21

Whit Ayres’ comments in Bloomberg Businessweek regarding the competitive Senate environment in 2018:

Whit Ayres, a GOP strategist advising Senate and House candidates next year, admits Republicans are going to have “the wind in their face,” but he points out that, given the 26 seats Senate Democrats will have to keep, the GOP has been “blessed with an extraordinarily favorable map in 2018.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 16

Whit Ayres’ comments to the Associated Press on the effect of tax reform on Republicans’ electoral prospects in 2018:

“Passing the tax bill is necessary but not sufficient for Republicans to retain control of Congress in 2018,” said GOP consultant Whit Ayres. “It does give the party a concrete accomplishment that they can take to the voters, and that’s critical.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 15

Whit Ayres’ comments in The New York Times regarding Senator Rubio’s efforts to expand the Child Tax Credit in the Republican tax reform bill:

“He is not ‘all of a sudden, at the last minute’ grandstanding,” said Whit Ayres, Mr. Rubio’s pollster. “This is a consistent cause of his, going back to the presidential campaign and before.”

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 14

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Wall Street Journal regarding the Alabama special election and what it means for next year’s midterm elections:

“Obviously, the primary responsibility lies with a deeply flawed Republican candidate,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres.

But he said results in Alabama—and in Virginia’s race for governor, which Democrats won—also showed that some voters were turning against the GOP under President Donald Trump’s leadership, ”particularly college-educated, suburban women.”

That trend carries “troubling implications” for the GOP in next year’s elections, he said.

To read the full article, please click here.

Whit Ayres, December 12

Whit Ayres’ comments in The Christian Science Monitor on Alabama’s unique political views and senate race:

“Alabama’s always had a fiercely independent streak,” explains GOP pollster and consultant Whit Ayres. “George Wallace came from Alabama, and stood in the schoolhouse door to tell the federal government to get lost,” says Mr. Ayres, referring to the Democratic governor of Alabama who opposed integration in the turbulent 1960s, when the state was ground zero for the civil rights movement.

To read the full article, please click here.