If the dismantling of the blue wall states came at Trump’s own hand in 2016, so too did its reconstruction this week, as Democrats handily ousted candidates endorsed by the former president.
What’s more, Democratic gains in Arizona and Georgia — where Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly leads Blake Masters in the Senate race, and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Republican Herschel Walker are heading to a runoff — further buttress the party’s improved Electoral College math ahead of 2024. After Tuesday, a revived Democratic coalition that turned out their base and won over swing voters in these states looks increasingly resilient.
In perhaps no place was this more evident than in Wisconsin, where Democrats not only denied the GOP a supermajority in the statehouse but where incumbent Tony Evers fended off a challenge from Trump-endorsed Tim Michels. Evers became the first Democratic governor since 1962 to win Wisconsin in a midterm year while a Democrat was serving in the White House.
While there was one notable exception to Democrats’ good night in the state — Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) beat back a Democratic challenge to win a third term — the party emerged from the state with well-founded confidence about their prospects in the 2024 presidential race.
“Trump stepped into office in 2016 by smashing a hole in the blue wall,” Wisconsin Democratic Chairman Ben Wikler told POLITICO on Wednesday. “Gov. Evers and [Michigan] Gov. [Gretchen] Whitmer began to rebuild that wall. And now in the moment of greatest peril with a Democratic president, the wall holds firm. It’s a historic and profoundly consequential victory for Democracy.”
In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, Josh Shapiro and John Fetterman scored crucial gubernatorial and senatorial wins in a pivotal 2024 state, dispatching Trump-backed Doug Mastriano and Mehmet Oz, respectively.
And in Michigan — a battleground state that Trump in 2016 became the first Republican to carry since 1988 — Democrats secured wins in the gubernatorial, attorney general and secretary of state races. They also flipped the Michigan Senate for the first time in nearly 40 years.
“The fact that we’ve got a state in the Midwest — that’s probably one of the most consequential battleground states in the country — that now has a Democratic trifecta for the first time in nearly 40 years heading into 2024, it just changes everything,” said Michigan State Sen. Mallory McMorrow, who raised millions of dollars on the back of a viral speech, money she devoted to help win back the Republican-controlled legislative body.
To win, Democrats like McMorrow in the Rust Belt beat back the culture wars and successfully awayed what she called “normal voters.”
Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary and former 2020 presidential candidate who rose to national prominence with a December 2016 manifesto outlining how Democrats could win back flyover country, said his party has improved its messaging to Rust Belt voters since then.
“I think there’s been a lot of growth,” Buttigieg, who barnstormed Michigan last week, told POLITICO in an interview in suburban Detroit last week. “I think it’s part of the reasons why the results of Michigan and Wisconsin were different from 2016 to 2020. But I think there’s more to do before people fully hear the ways that we are best aligned with the values of the middle of the country.”
Even in Ohio, where Democratic Senate hopeful Tim Ryan lost to J.D. Vance, his coattails boosted fellow Rust Belt Democrats like Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who won by double digits. Ryan, said Ohio Democratic Party Chair Elizabeth Walters on Wednesday, “ran one of the best races Ohio has ever seen.”
In yet another sign of a strengthening map for Democrats, several incumbents in Rust Belt states survived a forbidding political environment for their party. Among them were Reps. Susan Wild in Pennsylvania and Angie Craig in Minnesota.
The wins in some contested Rust Belt states remove a potential obstacle for the party in 2024, said David Pepper, former chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party.
“These states are important institutionally,” Pepper said, “because you have people now who will oversee elections in a way that we can trust.”