Red state Republicans had to be singing the blues Tuesday night as Democrats won marquee races, anchored by continued resonance of the abortion issue, in an off-year election seen as indicative of national trends going into the 2024 presidential election.
The job approval ratings of President Biden may be in the drink, but voters are drinking their fill of D-sponsored programs. Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky, a Democrat, won a second term in a state that ex-President Trump carried by a 26-point margin in 2020. In Ohio, twice carried by Trump, voters enshrined abortion rights in the state constitution, in an election that saw enormous turnout for an off-year vote.
Gov. Beshear won over a Trump-endorsed Republican, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, also a protégé of senior Bluegrass State Sen. Mitch McConnell. “Another loss for Trump,” trumpeted GOP presidential rival, ex-Gov. Chris Christie. “The losing will only end for Republicans if we rid ourselves of Donald Trump.”
The Democratic incumbent rarely mentioned President Biden during the campaign but ran on such Biden Administration achievements as the infrastructure package. The rebuilding of a vital bridge, connecting Cincinnati with its Kentucky suburbs, has become a symbol of Bluegrass State recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic.
While keeping distance from Biden, Gov. Beshear took aim at Trumpism in his victory speech. The election results are “a clear statement (by voters) that anger politics should end, right here, right now” he said of his six-point victory, with voters sending “a message that candidates should run for something and not against someone.” Republicans had tried to depict him as an advocate of gender surgery for teenagers.
The abortion battle in Ohio saw the state’s Republican rulers pulling out all the stops to secure a “No” vote. They put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in August to require a 60 percent affirmative vote to amend the state constitution — that was rejected. They used ballot language borrowed from the right-to-life movement, implying that the measure legalizes late term abortion, and Republican Gov. Mike Dewine was so offended that he campaigned against the ballot proposition.
The new amendment, carried by a big vote in Cleveland and Columbus suburbs, makes a difference in the lives of Ohio women. The GOP-dominated state legislature passed a measure banning the procedure after six weeks. Its implementation was stayed by a state court. Prop One, the enshrining amendment which passed, restores a standard of fetal viability of 22-24 weeks.
Abortion is permitted later in a pregnancy, on advice of a physician “to protect a patient’s life or health.” The measure also enshrines the right to contraception and fertility treatments. Opponents raised a smokescreen of issues, such as teenagers getting sex-change surgery without approval of parents.
Pro-choice forces have now prevailed in seven out of seven statewide votes on abortion rights held since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobbs ruling which overturned Roe v. Wade and rescinded the nationwide right to abortion. Victories have not only come in Democratic-leaning states, Michigan and California, but in deep red states of Kansas, Kentucky, and now Ohio.
The pro-choice cause is expected to be on the ballot next year in states of Arizona, Florida, and Missouri. The abortion issue has spurred turnout, especially among Gen. Z and millennial voters. Abortion was also a major issue in Virginia’s legislative elections, where the state’s colleges produced lineups of student voters. Democrats were ahead in the early count for a both-house majority.
As of mid-evening, Virginia voters appear to have headed off GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s bid to give Republicans full control of the Commonwealth’s legislature, and to enact a 15-week abortion ban. The D’s were retaining a narrow state senate majority, with a possibility the Republicans would lose the 52-48 state assembly majority they won two years ago. Republicans had touted Youngkin’s ability to “neutralize” the abortion issue, and spoken of him as a potential late entrant into the 2024 presidential race.
Democrats expanded their hold on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and retained a U.S. House seat in Rhode Island, giving the D’s a 213th seat in the 435-member House. . A Democrat, City Council member Cherelle Jackson, became the first woman elected mayor of Philadelphia. Another Democrat, 27-year-old Army Ranger veteran Brandon Sakbun, unseated a Republican mayor in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Beshear, in Kentucky, offered a kind of reprise of last year’s surprising Democratic showing in mid-term elections. He supported abortion rights. He took a strong stand during the COVID-19 outbreak and has led the state toward recovery from the pandemic. He handled major climate catastrophes of flooding and tornado damage.
Beshear made a point, too, of courting rural constituencies which have deserted the Democratic Party in recent years, rather on a model seen in this state with Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp-Perez. His Republican challenger, Cameron, was carrying rural counties, but with a percentage five to eight points below the Republican governor unseated by Beshear in 2019. Beshear won that race by a paper-thin margin of 5,000 votes.
President Biden’s low job-approval ratings have led to newspaper headlines about worried Democrats and gleeful Fox News stories on party divisions. But the Dems have done well when the voters get the chance to speak. A trio of big-ticket achievements – the American Rescue Plan, Infrastructure, and the Inflation Reduction Act – have brought tangible benefits, from a rebuild of the Ohio River bridge to giving Whatcom County a new ferry to serve Lummi Island.
The Republicans’ lone victories, as of mid-evening on Tuesday, were flipping the mayor’s offices in Wichita, Kansas, and Manchester, New Hampshire. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves was running ahead of Democratic challenger Brandon Presley in a close race.
With Trump atop the party, the Republicans have lost the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018, the presidency in 2020, chances of retaking the U.S. Senate in 2022, and seven out of seven statewide abortion votes. At least in Virginia, younger voters were turning out yesterday, for the Democrats.
Red tides may have been seen on Washington’s ocean beaches and in inland waters, but no red tide – let alone a red tsunami – has appeared in America’s political life.