Democratic incumbent senators who performed poorly with rural voters were part of the Republican formula that helped the GOP retain control of the Senate for at least the next two years.
Republican Josh Hawley unseated Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill by running up big leads in most areas outside the core urban counties of St. Louis and Kansas City. In 2012, when McCaskill beat Republican challenger Todd Aikin, her victory was supported by strong performance in nonmetropolitan counties close to metro areas. This time around she performed 30 points worse in those same counties, two years after Trump won the state by nearly 19 points.
In Florida, another state that went for Trump in 2016, Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson lost to Rick Scott. The challenger swept counties in all but the state’s largest metropolitan areas. Scott won by more than 30 points in small metropolitan and rural areas.
In Indiana, a similar story played out for Republican Senate challenger Mike Braun, who defeated incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly. Braun ran up large leads everywhere except the core urban counties of the state’s largest metropolitan areas. Braun won nonmetropolitan counties by more than 30 points.
In Texas, Republican Senator Ted Cruz defeated Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke by 3 points. O’Rourke did well in the state’s largest urban areas of Houston and Dallas and in counties on the southern border. Cruz made up the difference with 40-point victories in the suburbs of medium-sized cities, small cities, and rural areas. He carried the state’s most remote rural counties by 3 to 1.
In West Virginia, Democrat Joe Manchin held onto his Senate seat, defeating Patrick Morrisey. Manchin’s relative popularity in small cities and rural areas is a sharp contrast to states where incumbent Democrats lost to their challengers. Manchin did well in mid-sized and small metropolitan areas. He held his own in rural counties, losing nonmetro counties that are close to metro areas by a few points and tying with the Republican in more remote rural areas.
In Tennessee, another Senate election that received lots of national attention and money, Republican Marsha Blackburn defeated Democrat Phil Bredesen. Blackburn beat Bredesen handily everywhere except the urban cores of Nashville and Memphis. The Republican won small metros and rural areas by 40 points.