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Democratic gains in suburbs spell trouble for GOP
USA Today
By Jill Lawrence, USA TODAY
November 26, 2006

WASHINGTON — Democrats made large gains in suburbia in this month's elections, pushing Republican turf to the outer edges of major population centers in a trend that could signal trouble for the GOP, an analysis shows.

Democrats carried nearly 60% of the U.S. House vote in inner suburbs in the nation's 50 largest metropolitan areas, up from about 53% in 2002, according to the analysis by the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech.

They received nearly 55% of the vote in the next ring of "mature" 20- and 30-year-old suburbs, with 45% going to Republicans and third-party candidates. In 2002, the last midterm election, Democrats received 50% of the vote there.

"Republicans are getting pushed to the fringes of the metropolis," said sociologist Robert Lang, director of the institute. "They simply have to be more competitive in more suburbs," he said, to win statewide and presidential races.

The line between blue Democratic and red Republican territory used to be drawn at the outer boundaries of close-in "streetcar suburbs" with older housing and signs of decline, Lang said. They've become steadily more Democratic in the four elections since 2000, he said, and now are "solid blue."

Well-established or "mature" suburbs increasingly are turning Democratic, Lang said. He said the trend probably is permanent because such suburbs have become denser and have drawn more foreign-born residents as Republicans have moved farther from urban cores.

Republicans this year continued to win in small cities up to 50,000, as well as fast-growing exurban and rural areas. Lang called the exurbs and "emerging suburbs" volatile, noting Democrats had been losing ground there but cut GOP victory margins in half this year.

Suburban strength helped Democrats win House and Senate seats across the country. Democrat Patrick Murphy's win over GOP Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick in Pennsylvania's Bucks County is one example.

In 2002, the Democratic candidate won 36.9% of the vote against Republican Rep. Jim Greenwood in the county, an emerging Philadelphia suburb. This year, Democrat Murphy received 49.8% of the vote to Fitzpatrick's 50.2%. Fitzpatrick, a 10-year county commissioner, won the House seat in 2004.

Murphy also raised the Democratic victory margin by 14 percentage points in slivers of two other counties in the district. The gains allowed him to squeak to a 1,521-vote victory in unofficial returns.

Neil Newhouse, a GOP pollster whose firm handled more than 75 House and Senate races, said Republicans lost all kinds of voters, not just suburbanites. The main reason was Iraq, he said, and "I assume by the next midterm election in 2010 this will be resolved."

Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin said Republican appeal is waning in the inner suburbs, due in part to socially conservative positions, while Democrats are getting better at reaching suburban voters. They have "doubled, tripled and quadrupled" their efforts to be competitive in exurbs and emerging suburbs, Garin said, since the "huge shock" of losing 97 of the country's 100 fastest-growing counties in 2004.

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