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Opinion What Tuesday’s election results tell us about 2020

Kentucky democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear on Wednesday in Louisville.
Kentucky democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear on Wednesday in Louisville. (Bryan Woolston/AP)

IT WOULD be wrong to overinterpret the results of Tuesday’s elections, especially with regard to what they might portend for 2020. There’s no reason to underinterpret them, either. The vote counts from Kentucky, Virginia and elsewhere represent the latest hard data about voter tendencies and, on the whole, they imply that, even in longtime Southern bastions of Republican conservatism, people support a pragmatic, progressive direction in policy — and a decent, inclusive style of leadership.

Yes, yes: Virginia has been trending blue for years; Democrat Andy Beshear’s declared gubernatorial win in the Bluegrass State reflected the epic unpopularity of incumbent Republican Matt Bevin, and did not radiate downballot. Still, it’s a major turn of events when Democrats take control of Richmond for the first time in a quarter-century, with gun control as their signature issue; and the same goes for deep-red Kentucky’s rejection of President Trump’s appeal for Mr. Bevin, in favor of a 41-year-old who promised “together we can change the tone, restore decency . . . and do so much for the people.”

We’re not in the business of political advice, but Mr. Beshear’s formulation, similar as it was to the Democrats’ winning message in 2018, strikes us as one that the men and women running to replace Mr. Trump might usefully take on board. The other big political news this week was a New York Times-Siena College poll that showed the leading Democrats struggling to beat the president in key swing states, though former vice president Joe Biden polls better than rivals Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). To the extent this is because Mr. Biden has become associated with step-by-step policy reform and consensus-seeking leadership, the findings are probably not accidental. There is a hunger in the country — especially in pivotal formerly GOP-leaning suburbs — not only for change, substantive and stylistic, at the top, but also for stability and sanity. A candidate, and a party, that convincingly offers to achieve the former without sacrificing the latter might well beat Mr. Trump next November.

To be sure, that one poll should not be overinterpreted. A sign that it can be is the news that former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who once held office as a Republican, is considering entering the Democratic primary. The case for Mr. Bloomberg’s entry, if it does indeed occur, is that the Democrats have veered too far left to beat Mr. Trump, Mr. Biden is too ineffectual to win, and candidates of moderate temperament, such as Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) or South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, are of negligible significance. Without signing on to any of those political judgments, we would note that Mr. Bloomberg has both an impressive record and some baggage of his own. Is the Democratic Party about to embrace a billionaire whose signature crime-control policy, aggressive “stop-and-frisk” policing — with a heavy impact on youth of color — eventually alienated the very communities it was intended to protect?

For now, it’s enough to note that Mr. Bloomberg’s candidacy would further sharpen what is already an intensifying debate among Democrats over their direction, politically and in policy. We don’t yet have a favorite candidate, but we do know that all of them — indeed, politicians of both parties — would be well advised to heed the sentiments voters expressed Tuesday.

Read more:

E.J. Dionne Jr.: Trump is in trouble. Tuesday’s elections are proof.

Henry Olsen: The media is missing the big story from Tuesday’s elections

Alexandra Petri: President Trump snatches victory from the jaws of defeat, almost

Karen Tumulty: Republicans can only blame themselves for losing in Virginia

Greg Sargent: What GOP spin about last night’s losses says about Trump’s weakness

The Post’s View: Republicans in Virginia are toast — because they toasted themselves