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Opinion Warnock’s win exposes the new geography of GOP weakness after Trump

Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) in Norcross, Ga., on Tuesday. (Brynn Anderson/AP)

It’s easy to forget this now but, before 2020, there was widespread skepticism that Democrats could transform Georgia into a competitive state. Joe Biden’s presidential campaign invested resources there and won by a scant 11,000 votes, after which Democrats won both the state’s U.S. Senate seats, also by very tight margins.

Now that Sen. Raphael G. Warnock has been reelected in the Georgia runoff, Democrats will for the foreseeable future treat this state not just as competitive but as essential to their national strategy.

Warnock’s victory should be seen as part of a larger shift, in which Democrats are reconfiguring their national map — with regard to both the Senate and the White House — through gains in the New South and the Southwest. In two straight cycles — 2020 and 2022 — Democrats ran the table in key states in those regions for the first time in decades.

To understand this ongoing shift, I talked to Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg, who presciently predicted that the vaunted “red wave” of 2022 would not materialize. (Full disclosure: Rosenberg is a friend.) This interview has been edited for clarity and condensed.

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Greg Sargent: In 2020 and 2022, Democrats won Georgia, Virginia, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado, while as recently as 2004 Republicans won them all. Do you view this as a meaningful shift in our politics?

Simon Rosenberg: The high-water mark for the Republican Party in the last generation was the 2004 election. Since then, those six states have gone from Republican to Democrat. The gains that Democrats made in the New South and the Southwest since George W. Bush’s time have built a new and modern electoral coalition for us.

As recently as 2020, there was debate over whether Biden should invest resources in Georgia. Biden won it. With Warnock, we have confirmation that this wasn’t just a one-off.

Our track record of winning runoffs in Georgia was abysmal. Now, we’ve done it in 2020 and 2022, with the guy pulling off two wins being an African American preacher. Georgia has become a state where we’ve learned how to win statewide. We’ve learned how to win in Arizona. It’s changed the map.

Let’s talk about Arizona. Biden won there by a hair in 2020, but then Sen. Mark Kelly won it by five points in 2022. What does that tell us?

A similar story happened in Arizona and Georgia. These states had demographic possibilities for us. We changed the electorates in them through voter registration and voter turnout. In Georgia, it was led by Stacey Abrams, and in Arizona, it was a team effort.

Now, not only have we won both states at the presidential level, but we’ve also picked up four Senate seats in them.

The fact that Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto could hang on in Nevada, while Sen. Michael F. Bennet won a lopsided victory in Colorado — both amid difficult conditions for Democrats — cements the idea that there’s been a real shift in the Southwest.

The story in the Southwest is ongoing Republican erosion. We get very large margins among Hispanic voters. And as Hispanic voters have increased their share in many of these states, they’re continuing to become more Democratic, the way it happened in California. If Republicans can’t do better with Hispanic voters, this region is going to slip away from them.

There has been a shift among Latinos toward Republicans here and there. How seriously do you take that as a long-term thing Democrats have to pay attention to?

While there was a dip in 2020 and we don’t yet know what happened in 2022, we’re going to need to be more agile and stop treating the Hispanic vote as monolithic. What’s happening in Florida is very different from what’s happening in the Southwest. Even in 2022 when there was a dip, Democrats had their best year in the Southwest in 80 years.

Colorado and New Mexico are on the verge of becoming one-party states, like California. Arizona is more Democratic. There’s no question as you look ahead to 2024, Nevada will be one of the true battlegrounds. But it’s not clear that Colorado and New Mexico will be competitive.

You brought up Florida. One could argue that the shift in the Southwest and the New South is mainly offsetting the deepening Republican advantage in places like Florida, Ohio and Iowa.

The point you make is valid. Republicans have seen improvements in their marginal battleground states, ones that Democrats had hoped to win. Iowa is obviously seen as so far gone that Democrats were willing to let go of the Iowa caucuses.

To what degree was the shift in the Southwest and the New South toward Democrats accelerated by Donald Trump?

MAGA has performed terribly in the battlegrounds in three consecutive elections. You now have this kind of muscle memory for voters in these states, where they identify the Republican Party as MAGA, because MAGA continues to be the offering put in front of them.

Whoever the nominee is in 2024 — even if it isn’t Trump — will have a hard time saying, “No, I’m not really MAGA, I’m this other kind of Republican."

I think [Florida Gov.] Ron DeSantis made an enormous strategic error by running so hard toward MAGA over the last year. It’s going to be very difficult — now that MAGA is seen as a failure — for him to somehow claim that this isn’t his governing approach.

On the other hand, DeSantis put together a true majority coalition in an admittedly red-leaning state, but not that red-leaning a state.

What’s happening in Florida is unique. When DeSantis goes out into these battleground states, the politics are going to be very different there. He’s deeply out of position on abortion.

I remain very optimistic. Democrats are going to try really hard to put North Carolina into the mix. You’ll see efforts in North Carolina that feel similar to what we did in Arizona and Georgia.

The core battlegrounds are going to be Wisconsin, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina. We’re going to see a very different kind of map. When I look to 2024, I’d rather be us than them.

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