A deeply divided electorate delivered a split verdict on President Trump’s first two years in office on Tuesday, one that reflects growing chasms along geographic and ideological faults.
On one hand, suburban voters delivered a stern rebuke to an unpopular president, ousting both Republican incumbents who had embraced Trump and those who had sought to distance themselves. Democrats made big gains in Midwestern gubernatorial races, a step in the direction of rebuilding once-favorable political terrain that Trump had claimed.
On the other hand, rural voters stormed to the polls in virtually unprecedented numbers, delivering once again for the president they voted for in 2016 in a handful of critical Senate and gubernatorial elections in ruby red states.
“We’ve got some big schisms out there,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who won reelection in an exurban and rural district on Tuesday. “Rural America’s much more Republican than ever before.”
Exit polls showed three-quarters of voters said Americans are becoming more divided.
Trump’s rhetoric in the closing days of the campaign exacerbated those divides, by turns strengthening Republican chances in Senate races where the GOP base turned out and weakening his party’s hopes of keeping the House.
The exit surveys showed Trump was a major factor in Tuesday’s elections. Nearly two-thirds of voters said they cast their ballot for Congress either to support Trump (26 percent) or oppose him (38 percent). More voters said they were casting a ballot to support Trump than oppose him in Senate races in Missouri, Indiana and North Dakota, three states where Republicans beat Democratic incumbents.
The Senate Democrats who lost their reelection bids on Tuesday all saw their vote shares drop in rural areas.
Six years ago, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) won 53 counties as she won a second term; on Tuesday, McCaskill won only five counties — around Kansas City, St. Louis and Columbia — and lost her seat to Sen.-elect Josh Hawley (R). Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) won seven counties along Indiana’s southern border in 2012; this year, he won only one, Vanderburgh County.