To the extent we can extrapolate from state and local races nationally (which is always imperfect), these results suggest the nation has not soured on Democrats in the middle of the impeachment inquiry.
“Congratulations to Virginia Democrats — this historic victory should send a chill down the spines of Donald Trump and every Republican,” Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez said in a statement.
The exception to Democrats’ good night came in Mississippi, where Republican Tate Reeves won the open governor’s seat by nearly six percentage points over Democrats’ most formidable challenger in years, Jim Hood. Republicans also picked up attorneys general seats in Mississippi and Kentucky that had eluded them for decades, going 3-0 in attorneys general races this year and putting them back in the majority for attorneys general. And Republicans picked up a couple state legislative seats in New Jersey.
But Trump should be worried. Tuesday night’s elections didn’t provide evidence that Republican voters, mad about impeachment, are coming to his defense in competitive races. In fact, it suggests the opposite: That Democrats even in mostly white, rural states are motivated to vote out Republicans who stand by Trump.
If impeachment was a political boon for Trump, Republicans would have held onto the governor’s mansion in Kentucky in a decisive way. It’s been a competitive race for months, but Democratic and Republican strategists The Fix talked to before the polls closed didn’t think Gov. Matt Bevin (R), despite his unpopularity at home, was going to lose to Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear. It’s just too much of a Republican-leaning state. Trump won it by 30 points, and his visit there Monday helped put the wind in the sails of Republicans.
Or so everyone thought. With all the votes in, Beshear is leading narrowly. He has claimed victory while Bevin says he’s not conceding yet.
State elections are more complicated than federal ones because local issues also play a part, and that’s true in Kentucky. Bevin was a uniquely unlikeable candidate who perhaps motivated the Democratic base to unseat him. He’s been fighting with teachers. His own Republican lieutenant governor is suing him, and a Republican state senator actively campaigned against him. Kentucky has a history of electing Democratic governors despite its recent realignment to the GOP. In the modern era, Democrats have controlled the governor’s mansion in Kentucky twice as much as Republicans.
“Republicans won every office on the ballot except [Bevin’s],” in Kentucky, wrote Scott Jennings, an adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
But what should make Democrats feel good going into 2020 at all levels is that they won in two very different places on Tuesday with two different strategies. In Kentucky, Bevin has a Trumpian-style he adopted even before Trump was president and then embraced Trump in a big way. That strategy did not save him in Kentucky, of all places.
In Virginia, for the most part Republicans running for state legislature sidestepped Trump as much as they could. Democrats challenging them used pretty straightforward Democratic messaging, about gun control and expanding health care. They beat Republicans where they needed to in the Richmond suburbs.
It means Democrats will control the map-drawing process for state and congressional districts in Virginia for the first time in a decade. During Trump’s tenure, Democrats have flipped 10 state legislative chambers from Republicans, giving them more of a seat at the table in redistricting battles that will play out across the nation after the 2020 Census. Nothing less than the party’s future is at stake in controlling some of these chambers, as in Virginia.
For the third election in a row since Trump became president, Democrats won clutch races where they needed to — and this time under the historic pressure of an impeachment inquiry in the House. That’s a big deal for Democrats going into 2020 at all levels.