WEXFORD, Pa. — Just a few seats shy of a majority in the State House of Representatives, Democrats in Pennsylvania this year zeroed in on Republican-held suburban districts, where disdain for President Trump ran hot.
One of their prime targets was in the North Hills suburbs outside Pittsburgh, which are home to big brick houses, excellent public schools and “the fastest-trending Democratic district in the state,” according to Emily Skopov, the Democratic nominee for an open seat there, who gamely knocked on the doors of Republican voters in the days before Nov. 3.
She was half right. Joseph R. Biden Jr. carried Pennsylvania’s House District 28, after Mr. Trump had won it by nine percentage points in 2016.
But Ms. Skopov, the founder of a nonprofit group who positioned herself as a moderate, was defeated.
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 continuing support for center-left policies.
“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.”
That dawning truth is evident in the narrower majority that House Democrats will hold in Congress next year, and especially in the blood bath that the party suffered in legislative races in key states around the country, despite directing hundreds of millions of dollars and deploying top party figures like former President Barack Obama to obscure down-ballot elections.
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.