Major Democrat Victories in Kentucky, Virginia

It can be tricky to try to predict the results of a presidential contest based on the results of an off-year election like the one held yesterday in the United States. But while the most recent election was not as consequential as midterm or presidential elections, the results nonetheless gave reasons for Democrats to celebrate and for Republicans to be concerned. In Kentucky, a usually deep red state and home to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is up for reelection next year, Democrat Andy Beshear beat Republican incumbent governor Matt Bevin by a slim margin. And in Virginia, as a likely consequence of a court-ordered redrawing of gerrymandered districts, Democrats won full control of the state’s government, paving the way for major policy changes including a higher minimum wage, stricter gun control laws, and the potential passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment that would ensure men and women are given equal rights under the law throughout the country.

Although Democrats have much to celebrate today, Republicans also saw some noteworthy victories. Perhaps most significantly, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves defeated Attorney General Jim Hood by about five percentage points for the position of Mississippi state governor, and the Republican party also gained some legislative seats in New Jersey. But on the whole, Democrats came out on top yesterday, making substantial gains in states across the country, including electoral victories in Pennsylvania, a state that could potentially be decisive for Trump’s reelection.

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Though Governor Matt Bevin has not yet conceded the race, the results of the election in Kentucky are unambiguous, and major news networks have called the race for challenger Andy Beshear. Bevin’s loss is particularly remarkable because of how it is connected to Donald Trump; Bevin ran his campaign by portraying himself as an ally of Trump’s, and the president even appeared in Kentucky to support the incumbent governor’s reelection. Bevin’s governing style, too, has been compared to Trump’s, as he is known for picking fights with groups who have opposed his policies, including teachers and police in the state. He also attempted to dismantle key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which proved to be unpopular with Kentucky voters. 

Yesterday’s results show how gerrymandering, when left unchecked, can totally transform the politics of an entire state in favor of the minority party.

As such, several commentators view Bevin’s loss as a rebuke of Trumpism, and have opined that suburban voters are revolting against the GOP in the wake of impeachment proceedings and a deeply unpopular president. However, supporters of the president argue that Bevin was a uniquely troubled candidate, who lost despite Trump’s assistance, and point out that the Republican party overall did much better in the state for more local candidates farther down the ballot. That being said, the news of the upset in Kentucky is certainly cause for concern among Republicans, who normally expect easy victories in the state. The full implications of their loss remain to be seen, but the results certainly don’t give Republicans any cause for optimism in 2020, particularly because of what they mean for Mitch McConnell, perhaps the most powerful figure currently occupying the Senate.

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The most substantial governmental change undoubtedly happened in Virginia, a state where elections for legislative and executive roles are held on off years like this one. Virginia has been in the news lately for the battle over gerrymandered districts which was recently decided by the state’s courts. In Virginia, courts ordered district lines to be completely redrawn after the 2017 election, after which Republicans maintained control of significant parts of the government despite losing the popular vote overall as a result of having drawn electoral maps in their favor, in a process called “gerrymandering.” After Virginia courts ruled that the gerrymandered districts unfairly favored Republicans who drew the maps in question, these maps were redrawn, paving the way for yesterday’s Democratic victory in the state.

Yesterday’s results show how gerrymandering, when left unchecked, can totally transform the politics of an entire state in favor of the minority party, and how court-ordered redrawing of districts can cause election results to line up more closely with popular sentiments. They also suggest that impeachment is not as effective as a rallying cry as Republican strategists have hoped, and that anti-Trump sentiment helps to turn out Democratic voters even in deep red states like Kentucky. Although Virginia went for Clinton in 2016 and winning the state is not essential for Trump’s reelection, the tendency for courts to redraw gerrymandered districts in states like Virginia has ominous implications for the Republican party, who depend on gerrymandered districts to maintain in both state and national positions, and are already beleaguered by rising national support for impeachment and removal of the president from office.

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