Democrats had plenty of good news to celebrate in Tuesday’s off-year elections and further evidence that they can win races surrounding the national debate over abortion.
Abortion rights supporters won a vote in Ohio and the Democratic governor of beet-red Kentucky kept his office by championing reproductive rights and portraying his opponent as an extremist. A Democrat won an open seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court after campaigning on his promise to uphold abortion rights. And Democrats took full control of the Virginia statehouse by blocking Republicans from passing new abortion restrictions, handing Gov. Glenn Youngkin a defeat that could end any excitement about a late entry into the GOP presidential primary.
The victories won’t be enough to make Democrats feel confident heading into next year’s presidential election. The off-year election has big implications for all of these states and provides a snapshot of American politics in 2024. But two big names — Joe Biden and Donald Trump — weren’t on the ballot this time. How Americans view them will have a big impact on shaping next year’s race.
Here are some key results from Tuesday’s vote.
Abortion remains a major concern for Democrats
Democrats won two early victories Tuesday night in Kentucky and Ohio, states that voted for Trump in 2020. In both states, abortion was the main issue of the election campaign.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear was re-elected in a state Trump won by 26 percentage points. Beshear had criticized the abortion views of his Republican challenger, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, in debates and television ads. A Beshear ad featured a woman who miscarried at age 12 after being raped by her stepfather and expressed disbelief at Cameron’s opposition to abortion in cases of rape and incest.
In Ohio, a ballot measure was passed to preserve abortion rights in a state that Trump won by eight percentage points in 2020. Republicans had already tried to derail the measure by scheduling an unusual referendum in August to make it harder to pass ballot measures, an initiative that was soundly rejected by Ohio voters.
Later Tuesday, Dan McCaffery won an open seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court after positioning himself as a defender of abortion rights. And in Virginia, Democrats held the state Senate and gave the GOP control of the Virginia House of Delegates.
The results suggest a changed political landscape since a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal right to abortion last year. Abortion rights measures have passed in a variety of states, while some other Republican-led states have introduced new bans on the procedure.
Abortion rights may not be strong enough to produce a choice on their own. Several GOP governors who supported new bans ran for re-election last year, including Mike DeWine of Ohio, Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas.
But abortion was the central issue across the country on Tuesday. And that should be a concern for Republicans in next year’s elections.
Good night for Democrats, but maybe not for 2024
It was a good night for Democrats after a string of special election victories and a stronger performance in last year’s midterm elections, which are usually devastating for the party in power in Washington.
But neither race was a decision about incumbent President Biden. And none of them mentioned Trump on the ballot or his ability to increase turnout among low-voter voters.
Democrats performed well in recent special elections and did better than expected in 2022. It increasingly appears that the party is starting from a position of strength. But it is not clear whether this extends to the 80-year-old president, who faces widespread skepticism about his job performance and whether he is too old for a second term.
We’ll have to wait until 2024 to see how Biden fares.
YOUNGKIN WILL FALL IN THE FUTURE
Glenn Youngkin burst onto the political scene in 2021 and scored a surprise victory, becoming the Republican governor of Virginia, a state Biden won handily the previous year. By putting a moderate, suburban twist on modern Republicanism, Youngkin raised eyebrows that he might even make a late and surprising entry into the Republican presidential primary after this month’s election.
Instead, Youngkin said he will focus on the 2023 general election and on gaining full Republican control of Virginia’s government. Things didn’t go as he had hoped.
Youngkin raised tens of millions of dollars for Republicans to defend their majority in the Virginia House of Delegates and win control of the Senate, which Democrats narrowly held in 2021. With this majority, the legislature could, among other things, achieve a 15 He supported a one-week ban on abortion.
Youngkin didn’t really have a path forward in the presidential primaries – his window to get on the ballot has already closed in some states. Virginia has an unusual one-term limit on governors, making Youngkin’s political future even more questionable.
Whatever he does, he will have to explain it in 2023. And he will face unified Democratic control of the House for the remainder of his term.
HEARTBREAK HOTEL OF THE Democrats
It was a good night for Democrats, but it could only go so far.
The party invested heavily in an unlikely place: Mississippi, where Brandon Presley, better known as Elvis Presley’s second cousin, was challenging Republican Gov. Tate Reeves.
The party hoped that Presley’s celebrity and political skills, along with changes to a century-old provision originally designed to keep black candidates from winning statewide races, could mean an unlikely victory. But it wasn’t meant to be.
Reeves won the race. There are only so many lessons to be learned when a party lags in a state whose 2020 presidential candidate lost by 17 points, except for one of the oldest — you can’t win them all.
Political candidates broke barriers with a handful of victories on Tuesday.
Gabe Amo, a former Biden White House adviser, will become the first Black member of Congress from Rhode Island after winning the special election in that state’s 1st Congressional District.
The son of West African immigrants, Amo emerged from a 12-candidate September primary to succeed retiring Rep. David Cicilline. On Tuesday, Amo defeated Republican Gerry Leonard, a Marine veteran, in the heavily Democratic district.
And Philadelphia will have its first female mayor after Democrat Cherelle Parker defeated Republican David Oh in the overwhelmingly Democratic city.
Ohio voters have the right to access abortion care nearly 17 months after the Supreme Court ruled against Roe v. Wade was added to the state constitution.