Voters protect abortion rights and Democrats prevail in Kentucky

 New Jersey Democrats on Tuesday held on to a heavily contested state Senate district, with incumbent Vin Gopal winning a third term, and flipped an Assembly seat from GOP control in a heavily Republican area.

Gopal defeated Republican Steve Dnistrian in the 11th Legislative District in Monmouth County. His victory means Democrats successfully fended off a challenger in an increasingly moderate district. In Ocean County’s 30th District, Rabbi Avi Schnall defeated GOP incumbent Assemblyman Edward Thomson.

“I think voters are tired of the political bickering,” Gopal said Tuesday before his victory. “They want people to bring them together. There needs to be discussion and debate and decorum back in government.”

That campaign was among the most heavily contested this year, and saw more political spending than any other race, according to October figures from the state’s campaign finance watchdog.

Democrat Brandon Presley has conceded his race for Mississippi governor.

Presley, a state utility regulator and cousin of rock ‘n’ roll legend Elvis Presley, said Tuesday night, “I respect the decision of the voters of Mississippi.”

The Associated Press has not yet called the race because it’s unclear whether Republican Gov. Tate Reeves would remain above the threshold for a runoff. Mississippi requires that contests where no candidate receives a majority of the vote must advance to a runoff.

Reeves, meanwhile, claimed victory, saying his win “sure is sweet” and congratulating Presley for “running hard all the way through.”

The hard-fought contest was disrupted by a voting mess when polling places in the state’s largest county ran out of ballots and voters endured long lines in a key Democratic stronghold.

Hinds County election commissioners — all Democrats — were said to have underestimated the turnout and failed to have enough ballots on hand.

Democrats and abortion rights advocates notched a string of electoral victories on Tuesday, including in conservative Ohio and Kentucky, an early signal that reproductive rights remain a potent issue for Democrats ahead of the 2024 presidential race.

In Ohio, a state that voted for Republican Donald Trump by 8 percentage points in the 2020 presidential election, voters approved a constitutional amendment guaranteeing abortion rights, Edison Research projected.

The outcome extended an unbeaten streak for abortion access advocates since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last year to overturn its 1972 Roe. v Wade ruling and eliminating a nationwide right to end pregnancies.

In Virginia, Democrats appeared poised to hold their slim majority in the state Senate, which would allow them to continue blocking Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin's plan to pursue a ban on most abortions beyond 15 weeks after conception.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee said in a statement the party had held the Senate, with the House still too close to call.

And in Kentucky, Democratic Governor Andy Beshear won a second four-year term, Edison projected, defying the conservative lean of a state that voted for Trump by more than 25 percentage points in 2020.

The contests were among several across the U.S. offering critical clues about where the electorate stands less than 10 weeks before the Iowa presidential nominating contest kicks off the 2024 presidential campaign in earnest.

The results could help assuage concerns among some national Democrats who are worried about President Joe Biden's unpopularity with voters.

In a statement, Biden praised the Ohio result, saying, "Tonight, Americans once again voted to protect their fundamental freedoms – and democracy won."

Beshear defeated Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who would have been the state's first Black chief executive.

Despite his party affiliation, Beshear has maintained high approval ratings, buoyed by his leadership through the coronavirus pandemic and natural disasters. He also ran on protecting abortion rights, though he is powerless to overturn the state's near-total ban.

In his victory speech, Beshear called his win a "clear statement that anger politics should end right here and right now."


Ohio was the latest abortion battleground, nearly a year and a half after the Supreme Court decision.

Last year, abortion rights advocacy groups scored a series of victories by placing abortion-related referendums on the ballot, including in conservative states.

They have doubled down on that strategy. The outcome in Ohio will boost efforts already underway to put similar ballot measures before voters in several states for 2024, including swing states Arizona and Florida.

Anti-abortion forces campaigned against the Ohio amendment as too extreme, while abortion rights groups warned that rejecting it would pave the way for a stringent ban to take effect.

Tuesday's vote renders moot a six-week limit the Republican-controlled legislature had previously approved. That law had been on hold pending a legal challenge.

In Virginia, all 40 seats in the Senate and 100 seats in the House of Delegates were on the ballot.

Democrats sought to make abortion the top issue. Youngkin had portrayed his proposed 15-week limit as a moderate compromise, a tactic that could serve as a blueprint for Republicans next year.

The failure of Republicans to win a legislative majority was a rebuke for Youngkin, whose political action committee invested millions of dollars in the campaign. Some Republicans wary of Trump have floated Youngkin as a potential late entry to the 2024 presidential race, though the governor has said he has no plans for a White House run.

Biden added his weight to the race last week, issuing endorsements for 16 Democrats running in competitive races for the state House and seven in the Senate, while sending out a fundraising plea to supporters.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, early results showed Republican Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves leading his Democratic challenger, Brandon Presley, a former mayor and the second cousin of singer Elvis Presley.

Presley raised more funds than Reeves but faced an uphill climb in a state that voted for Trump over Biden by more than 16 percentage points in 2020.

The race was too close to call late on Tuesday, but Reeves was leading by more than 14 percentage points with about 60% of the estimated vote counted, according to Edison.

Both Reeves and Cameron in Kentucky were endorsed by Trump, the frontrunner for his party's 2024 White House nomination despite a litany of legal entanglements.

Ohio voters enshrined abortion protections in their state constitution on Tuesday, on an off-year Election Day that once again showed the staying power of reproductive rights as a galvanizing issue for Americans.

The vote was part of a pattern of recent victories for abortion rights in red states, and an indication of what will motivate voters in the 2024 general election. The earlier referendum votes that rejected abortion restrictions in other states—including the deeply red states of Kansas and Kentucky—rode a wave of anger in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade in 2023. Tuesday’s outcome indicated that the issue will remain salient, to say the least.

But the vote in Ohio was also its own specific, drawn-out battle. This past summer, money poured into the state for a special election that would have made it more difficult to amend the state constitution. That special election was very clearly intended to hamper the November abortion-rights effort—and though conservatives tried several forms of fear-mongering to get it passed—voters didn’t take the bait.

They rejected the proposal resoundingly, leaving a pathway for a vote on the state constitutional amendment that passed Tuesday. More than a dozen counties that voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 election also voted against the proposal in the special election in August—an indication of cross-party enthusiasm for abortion rights. That optimism whipped up even more frenzy for the November election: The abortion rights coalition spent more than $26 million on getting the amendment passed, according to the New York Times. That was more than triple what the anti-abortion side spent.

But abortion rights advocates also had several factors working against them on Tuesday. For one, Ohioans had to vote for change rather than against it, which requires more active support for abortion from voters. For another, the language of the amendment was vague enough to leave room for misinformation and wild interpretations. (Also, confusingly, both the proposal in August and the vote in November were called “Issue 1.”)

The proposal, which needed a majority to pass, establishes “an individual right to one’s own reproductive medical treatment,” as well as protections for people who help someone get an abortion. There wasn’t much specificity to the language beyond a ban on abortion bans (at least, until the point when a doctor considers a fetus viable) and a mandate that a woman be allowed an abortion at any point if her health is at risk. The official state guide to Tuesday’s ballot initiatives, published by the secretary of state, presented the arguments for and against Issue 1. The authors of the argument for it (mostly doctors, the group behind much of the initiative’s early drive) largely presented libertarian-style arguments about how voters should not want the government’s meddling in personal affairs “no matter how you feel about abortion personally.” But the authors of the argument against the amendment—mostly lawmakers—took the opportunity to warn about more imaginative dangers.

The amendment, conservative lawmakers wrote, would give power to for-profit abortion providers and subject women “to dangerous unregulated medical procedures” and “dismemberment abortions; painful, late-term abortions; and abortions after a child is born alive.” (The amendment’s language itself uses the term “unborn child” instead of a fetus.) It would allow people to have abortions “because of the child’s sex, race, or disability,” opponents argued. And, they argued, it would tread on parental rights.

“Parental rights” is a term more often associated with LGBTQ panics and book banning in school than abortion. But, somewhat unusually, the opponents of Issue 1 emphasized it in their opposition, writing that the amendment would bar “parents from being involved in their child’s medical decisions, like an abortion or irreversible sex-change operations.” It would also keep parents “out of the most important decisions in their children’s lives while allowing abortion promoters to pressure those children behind closed doors,” the lawmakers argued. The scaremongering over gender-affirming surgery was baseless; the proposed amendment had nothing to do with any medical issues other than reproductive care. And it didn’t sway the majority of voters anyway.

Right now, abortion is legal in Ohio until 22 weeks of pregnancy. Had the amendment failed, there was a risk that a previously imposed ban, now suspended under legal challenges, would restrict abortion to six weeks—before many women know they’re pregnant.

Now that’s off the table. The amendment will become effective in 30 days.

Joe Biden wasn’t on the ballot on Tuesday in Virginia. But the Democrats’ big win will bring welcome news on the other side of the Potomac.

Virginia’s off-year elections have long been seen as a bellwether of the broader political environment — and a partial referendum on the incumbent president. So Democrats' sweeping control of the state legislature — which both parties believed was in play — will serve as a boost to Biden’s reelection campaign next year.

Perhaps most crucially, it shows that voters’ broad distaste with Biden’s presidency may not be as much of an electoral drag on Democrats as initially believed. Biden carried Virginia by 10 points in 2020, but his approval ratings in the state and nationally have been underwater basically ever since.

In a mid-October survey from The Washington Post/Schar School, just 43 percent of registered voters approved of the job Biden was doing, and 55 percent disapproved.

That was well below his vote share in the state — and made him significantly less popular than Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, whose 2021 victory was seen as a rebuke by Virginia voters of Democratic-controlled Washington. In the poll, 54 percent approved of the job Youngkin was doing — the highest number measured in this survey for a Virginia governor since Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell in 2013 — and 38 percent disapproved.

Youngkin was not on the ballot Tuesday, but he invested heavily in the elections and in some ways made himself the face of Republicans’ push to retake the legislature.

A win for Republicans would have given Youngkin significant control in a state that still is solidly blue on the federal level — but instead, voters held their noses through their distaste with Biden and pulled the lever for Democrats in key battlegrounds.

Those districts mirror the areas where much of the fight for control of the White House will take place across the country next year — suburban swing districts that have largely raced away from the GOP since Donald Trump came on the scene.

Democrats won by running a campaign that was intensely focused on abortion rights. Virginia is one of the last states in the South that has any access to the procedure, and Democrats argued that a unified Republican government would threaten that.

Abortion was far and away the top issue in Democratic ads throughout the race, mentioned about 2.5 times more frequently than the party’s second most-talked-about issue, education, according to the advertising tracking firm AdImpact.

Tuesday’s wins will likely validate Democrats’ plans to continue to run on abortion next year, a strategy that has given them a series of almost uninterrupted wins since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer.

“In hundreds of races since Donald Trump’s conservative Supreme Court appointments overturned Roe v. Wade, we’ve seen Americans overwhelmingly side with President Biden and Democrats’ vision for this country,” Biden’s campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodríguez said in a statement Tuesday night. “That same choice will be before voters again next November, and we are confident the American people will send President Biden and Vice President Harris back to the White House to keep working for them.”

They also show that Youngkin doesn’t have the silver bullet for solving the GOP’s electoral problems with abortion, as his operation had hoped. Youngkin’s operation poured millions into ads that said Republicans in the state would push for a 15-week ban on abortion, calling their position reasonable and casting Democrats as the ones who are extreme.

Voters, evidently, did not agree.

In a small way, Democrats’ wins in Old Dominion on Tuesday also makes a 2024 rematch between Biden and Trump more likely.

Some big GOP donors nervous about Trump’s continued stranglehold over the party have been practically begging Youngkin, a rising star in the party, to launch a last-minute bid for the presidential nomination. The governor has steadfastly insisted he was focused on winning Virginia’s legislative elections, but pointedly he never entirely ruled out a run.

Now, Virg
inia voters have weighed in — and may have knocked the white knight off of his horse.


If you’re like most Americans, you couldn’t care less about elections held the year before a presidential contest.

Only a few states – all with relatively small populations – have statewide contests for elective offices this year. Virginia and New Jersey are holding elections for their state legislatures. Ohio voters will decide on two ballot initiatives. And several cities will be electing mayors.

But before you dismiss Tuesday’s elections out of hand, I want to draw your attention to what will be perhaps the last best test for both parties heading into 2024.

Election results for the Virginia Legislature over the past few cycles have been shown to correlate with what happens in the following year’s national elections. So a good showing for either party on Tuesday would bode well for that party next year.

Consider what happened in 2019. Democrats were able to flip both chambers of the Virginia Legislature. The following year Democrat Joe Biden won the presidency.

In 2021, Republicans retook the Virginia House. That was followed by the GOP winning back the US House of Representatives in 2022.

The Virginia Senate wasn’t up in 2021 – state senators face their voters every four years. Still, the party that controls the Virginia Senate going into the presidential election has gone on to win the presidency every year but once since 1999. That one time was in 2011, when the two parties ended up tied in the state Senate, with the Republican lieutenant governor serving as the tie-breaker.

This year, both parties are in a position to win control of either one or both legislative bodies in Virginia. Democrats hold the thinnest of majorities in the state Senate, while Republicans narrowly control the state House.

An October Washington Post-Schar poll found Democrats with a 2-point advantage – well within the margin of error – on the generic House ballot in Virginia. (The generic ballot usually asks respondents some form of the following question: “If the elections for the Legislature were held today, would you vote for the Democratic or Republican party?)

That 2-point edge is a far cry from 2019, when Democrats easily won the popular vote for both the Virginia House and Senate. Still, it’s better than Democrats’ 2021 performance in the state House popular vote. And it makes sense given what we’re seeing in national surveys. The two front-runners for their party nominations – Biden and former President Donald Trump – are close in the 2024 polls.

Special election trendlines

The electoral landscape in Virginia appears to be very different from what we’ve seen in the legislative and congressional special elections so far in 2023. In those elections, Democrats have been greatly outperforming the Democratic baseline (measured by comparing their candidates’ performances with Biden’s in 2020).

It’s an open question, though, as to why the typically low-turnout special elections have been favorable to Democrats. Is it just because Democrats have been very revved up to vote following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, but that voters who will cast ballots in higher-turnout elections will be more favorable to Republicans?

If that’s the case, then these special election results likely don’t tell us much about next year’s electoral outcome. The 2020 presidential election had the highest turnout most of us have seen in our lifetimes, and 2024 probably won’t be too different.

Virginia likely won’t experience the problem of low turnout this year to the same degree as these special elections. Both parties are spending big in the state. There will be 140 state legislative elections happening at the same time Tuesday. That’s important because any single election could be an outlier (e.g., one really bad candidate could throw things off in an individual district).

Speaking of money, a lot of it is focused on ads that could preview the messages each party will try to capitalize on next year. Democrats have been especially focused on abortion. Will their abortion rights message carry the day? Will it be enough to save them even as Biden remains unpopular and Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin is well-liked in the state?

If Virginia Democrats do well, expect their party colleagues across the country to try to replicate that effort next year when Biden is officially on the ballot.

But if Democrats are unable to succeed in a state Biden won by 10 points, what would that say about the president’s chances on far-less-fertile swing-state ground?

Nothing good.

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