White College Grads’ Distaste for Trump Hurt GOP in 2017. Will It Flip Control of Congress to Democrats in 2018?

Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times, December 25, 2017

White college graduates in America’s suburbs have turned hard against Republicans in elections around the country and threaten to upend the party’s control of Congress in the 2018 midterm elections.

Put off by Donald Trump’s presidency, they have been shunning Republicans in congressional and state legislative contests. Their support was crucial in electing Democrats as governor in Virginia and U.S. senator in conservative Alabama.

Republican hopes for keeping control of the U.S. Senate next year will hinge on affluent, mainly white suburbs like Summerlin, Nev., where Trump’s unpopularity is weighing on GOP Sen. Dean Heller in his run for reelection.

It’s an open question whether the Republican Party — encumbered by Trump’s often racially charged cultural appeals to blue-collar voters — has repelled well-educated whites for the long term.

“This is a big group of people, and they’re growing, and if they turn into a base group for the Democratic Party, that really changes things a lot,” said Ruy Teixeira, a demographics expert at the left-leaning Center for American Progress. “If there’s anyone who can do that, it’s Donald Trump.”

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Heller is widely seen as the party’s most vulnerable senator, and his reelection in this closely divided state depends on convincing white voters in upscale swing suburbs like Summerlin that Trump’s shortcomings should not be held against the senator.

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Part of what’s pushing white-collar suburban voters away from the GOP is Trump’s alliance with his party’s right wing on abortion, immigration and climate change, said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster who worked for former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

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Republicans have also positioned themselves, he said, as “anti-diversity” in an era when college-educated whites have largely welcomed civil-rights advances for women, racial minorities and LGBTQ Americans.

“I’m pushed away by the anti-gay, white nationalist side,” said Shayna Smith, a 30-year-old nurse who lives in Summerlin. “My generation is a little more open.”

A lifelong resident of the Las Vegas area, Smith is a Republican who voted for Trump but plans to back someone else in 2020 “if they have a heartbeat.”

The Senate race is shaping up as an epic test of Heller’s agility. His GOP primary rival, businessman Danny Tarkanian, is a staunch Trump man pressuring Heller to embrace the president.

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If Heller survives the primary, he will face brutal attacks — focused on his ties to Trump — from the powerful campaign operation built by Reid and the Culinary Workers Union, which represents 57,000 cooks, housekeepers, bellmen and other hospitality workers.

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Republicans acknowledge that suburban whites turned off by Trump pose a daunting challenge, especially when women, African Americans, Latinos and other core Democratic groups are highly motivated to vote.

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Despite the growth in minority voting, whites remain the dominant force in presidential elections. In 2016, 71% of the voters were white, 12% black, 11% Latino, 4% Asian, and 3% another race, according to exit polls.

In the decades after World War II, white voters with and without college degrees voted roughly the same way in White House contests.

Since Barack Obama’s election as president in 2008, however, whites have split. Those with college degrees have tilted toward Democrats, and those without have leaned Republican.

Trump’s electoral college victory was driven by a surge of support from whites with no college degree in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

The same dynamic played out in Nevada, where whites with no college degree were more supportive of Trump than those with a degree.

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Still, it’s Republicans like Gale and Brenda Fraser, a recently retired Summerlin couple, that Heller and others in the party need to fear.

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As for the immigrants that some want expelled from the U.S., Brenda Fraser said, “I think they have just as much a right to be here as anybody.”

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