The suburbs have always been competitive political territory, but they have taken on a different significance with urban and rural voters spinning further and further away from one another. Last December, a top Democratic operative laid out for me one way of thinking about the party’s future: Had Democrats just rented the suburbs under Trump, or do they own them? The suburbs’ highly educated, middle-class, family-oriented, moderate, predominantly white, and (in terms of actual swing votes) mostly women voters may be ready to stick with the Democratic Party for the long haul. But just in case, McAuliffe and his fellow Democrats are doing their best to make sure that the former president is still a part of this year’s elections.
A twist not mentioned in this article is that Trump had a particular vision for suburbia that he expressed multiple times in the summer of 2020. The particular current issues might be different or in a different form – COVID-19 has ongoing implications for suburbanites in year two of the pandemic, especially in places devoted to raising kids – but there are some underlying questions Trump raised: should suburbs be exclusive to particular groups? Should communities be free to exercise local control? The suburbs have changed in recent years and will likely to continue to change but what narratives will be told about this could still be up for grabs.
While Trump is the focus here, this seems to continue a pattern employed by both parties in recent years: tie local or state issues to who the parties think are disliked national figures. Democrats want to tie Republicans to Trump, Republicans want to tie Democrats to Nancy Pelosi. While these national figures might have some influence over more local contexts, there are also important local issues to consider.