Across the country, suburban voters’ disgust with Mr. Trump — the key to Mr. Biden’s election — did not translate into a wide rebuke of other Republicans, as Democrats had expected after the party made significant gains in suburban areas in the 2018 midterm elections. From the top of the party down to the state level, Democratic officials are awakening to the reality that voters may have delivered a one-time verdict on Mr. Trump that does not equal ongoing support for center-left policies.
Emily Skopov was the Democratic nominee for an open state legislative seat in a Pittsburgh suburb. She lost.
“There’s a significant difference between a referendum on a clown show, which is what we had at the top of the ticket, and embracing the values of the Democratic ticket,” said Nichole Remmert, Ms. Skopov’s campaign manager. “People bought into Joe Biden to stop the insanity in the White House. They did not suddenly become Democrats.”
This year, Democrats targeted a dozen state legislative chambers where Republicans held tenuous majorities, including in Pennsylvania, Texas, Arizona, North Carolina and Minnesota. Their goal was to check the power of Republicans to redraw congressional and legislative districts in 2021, and to curb the rightward drift of policies from abortion to gun safety to voting rights.
But in all cases, Democrats came up short. None of their targeted legislative chambers flipped, even though Mr. Biden carried many of the districts that down-ballot Democrats did not. It could make it harder for Democrats to retain a House majority in 2022.
“In 2018 in the Philadelphia suburbs, you had rage voting against Trump,” said Senator Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, a Democrat. But this year, with Mr. Trump on the ballot, the president brought out many more supporters who are occasional voters, diluting what Democrats had widely anticipated would be another wave election for them. “It may be suburban voters are still ticket splitters,” Mr. Casey said.
Ms. Skopov, the losing candidate in suburban Pittsburgh, was quick to tell voters while knocking on doors before the election: “I’m a fan of our police. I’m not looking to defund police.”
Still, she was hammered in mailings by Republicans who portrayed her as having an anti-law-enforcement position, which her campaign manager, Ms. Remmert, said did great damage.
Ms. Remmert cautioned that if Democrats hoped to cement their 2020 suburban gains in a presidential race in which Republicans put up someone less divisive than Mr. Trump, they would need to recalibrate their messaging.
“A lot of the suburban districts that you’re trying to flip, you can’t win by just turning out your base,” she said. “We could get every Democratic vote in those districts and you’re still not going to win. You have to be able to turn out independents and Republican voters for your message.”