Over the last several months, it’s become clear that the overturning of Roe v. Wade has created an incredibly difficult political landscape for Republicans. The widely-anticipated “red wave” failed to materialize in the midterm elections last fall, in part because Democrats were able to frighten swing voters into believing that the GOP would outlaw abortion across the nation. As the 2024 campaign begins to heat up, the debate over abortion medication threatens to create an even greater challenge for Republican candidates.
But nowhere will this battle be more fiercely fought than in America’s suburbs. Out of 435 seats in the House of Representatives, between 30 to 40 seats are truly competitive. The days of huge majorities are gone, at least for now.
Of these competitive districts, almost all of them happen to be suburban districts. This is where the GOP’s purported red wave crashed. While the Republicans won the popular vote for the House by 3 million votes, the effect was that red areas just got redder.
The cold reality is that if the Republican Party does not improve its prospects in the suburbs, it’s going to have a bad night on Nov. 5, 2024. The recent GOP defeat in a Wisconsin state supreme court race shows the GOP’s problem with independent voters has not been addressed.
Who should the GOP look to as an example?
One of these 30 swing seats is South Carolina’s 1st District, represented by Rep. Nancy Mace. Mace represents a purple district where 44 percent of the voters over 25 have a college or professional degree. These are the areas where Republicans have struggled in recent years. But on election night 2022, Mace outperformed her Democratic challenger by 14 points.
While Republicans are wringing their hands over how to handle abortion, Mace, who is pro-life, is looking for common ground with Democrats. She is championing issues such as making birth control more accessible and expanding medical services for women in rural areas. Mace believes we can find common ground even on hot issues, including one as politically contentious as abortion.
Mace understands that demographically the suburbs are not as partisan as rural and urban areas. American suburbs are starting to fill up with millennial homeowners who are starting families, college educated and more ethnically diverse than past generations.
Suburban voters tend to identify as socially tolerant, embracing a live-and-let-live mentality. They are also fiscally responsible. These voters pay taxes and know that they and their children will be on the hook for the debt and future deficits. They want a boring government that does a few things well and stays in its lane. It’s what some people would call philosophically small ‘l’ libertarian. That’s a sentiment that Mace shares.
When you poll suburbanites about what they want in an elected official, they use words such as “common sense,” “compromise” and “competence.” She is connecting with her voters, who want to find difficult compromises on very personal social issues. Her suburban constituents may make more money than the average American, but they are feeling the strain of higher prices. They are suspicious of large and distant government programs that may not affect them but for which they will have to pay. These voters want more choices, in health care, education and retirement.
This is why Nancy Mace won by double digits on a disappointing election night for Republicans.
As it stands, both parties are in decline. According to Gallup, our partisan identification is 27 percent Democratic, 28 percent Republican and a stunning 44 percent independent.
If Republicans want to keep the House, they’re going to have to overperform with independents in swing districts. Nancy Mace is trying to welcome them into her part of the Republican tent.
In a recent interview, she said, “[W]e have a number of people in this country that have left the Democrat Party, they have left the Republican Party. They don’t feel like they have a home. And we need leadership that will embrace those independent voices and that will look forward.”
Mace is enthusiastically supported by her district. If Republicans want a path to keeping its majority, all they need to do is take a look at South Carolina’s 1st District to see how it is done.
Originally published in on TheHill.com — 4/29/23 11:00 AM