Democrats celebrate big wins on Election Day
Republicans suffered stinging defeats in Kentucky, Virginia, and Pennsylvania this week as suburban voters in traditionally conservative districts swung to Democrats in statewide and local races widely seen as referendums on national politics and President Trump’s popularity. In Virginia, voters overturned Republican majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, awarding Democrats total control over the legislative and executive branches for the first time since 1993. In Kentucky, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin refused to concede after his Democratic challenger, Attorney General Andy Beshear, notched a slim 5,100-vote lead; Trump carried the state by 30 percentage points in 2016. And in Pennsylvania, a swing state that Trump won in 2016, Democrats triumphed in the Philadelphia suburbs of Delaware, Chester, and Bucks counties, areas that in some cases have been GOP strongholds since the Civil War.
Bevin, who has called for a vote recanvass, closely aligned himself with President Trump during the campaign, hammering national Democrats for their efforts to impeach him. At a rally with Bevin on the eve of the election, Trump conceded the implications of defeat in a local race that had been so prominently nationalized, saying that Bevin’s loss would send “a really bad message” beyond Kentucky. “You can’t let that happen to me,” he said, “and you can’t let that happen to your incredible state.” Meanwhile in Mississippi’s gubernatorial race, Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves beat Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood 52 percent to 47 percent, a narrower-than-expected victory in an open-seat election.
What the editorials said
It “wasn’t a blue wave but a tsunami that swept over Virginia,” said the Richmond, Va., Times-Dispatch. Democrats now enjoy “almost absolute power over Virginia government,” giving them the ability to draw new maps for congressional and state legislative districts after the 2020 election. They can also push through bills that stood no chance when Republicans controlled the General Assembly: repealing the state’s right-to-work laws; raising the minimum wage to $15; and toughening firearms laws by mandating universal background checks. The Democratic takeover in Virginia “is a shock,” said the Roanoke, Va., Times, “but not that much of one.” The state has been trending blue for a decade, and Democrats haven’t lost a statewide election since 2009. And the party faithful shouldn’t be too gleeful over this win. While many voters here loathe the president, “it’s entirely possible Democrats will nominate someone who is equally unpopular, just in different ways.”
What the columnists said
Clearly, the “suburbs are the new Florida,” said Alice Stewart in CNN.com. In Kentucky, Democrat Beshear demonstrated “tremendous support in suburban areas in which Republicans typically thrive.” In northern Virginia, “a suburb of the swamps of Washington,” Republicans were wiped off the map. And while Reeves did win GOP-stronghold counties outside Jackson, Miss., he did so “with narrower margins than in years past.” The results should serve as “a wake-up call” to Trump that his message is not playing well outside rural America.
Kentucky’s gubernatorial election shouldn’t be mistaken for a referendum on Trump, said Nathan Gonzales in RollCall.com. Bevin was a badly damaged candidate, having pushed an unpopular overhaul of the state’s Medicaid program—which would have instituted work requirements for able-bodied adults and thrown 95,000 people off the rolls—and called teachers striking for modest pay raises “ignorant” and “selfish.” Moreover, the GOP won “the five other statewide offices” that were on the ballot, “four of them by more than a dozen points.” Trump’s “last-minute push” probably saved Bevin from an even more humiliating loss.
These election results will have national Republicans worrying about “what kind of damage they might suffer as a result of standing by their man” through the impeachment process, said Julian Zelizer in CNN.com. After all, the GOP’s “love for Trump” was never “about the man but, rather, the party” and his ability to deliver it victories. If Republican leaders sense that Trump is hurting, rather than helping, “the intense partisanship that has been central to protecting him on Capitol Hill” could evaporate. And Virginia’s and Kentucky’s results are just the sort of “numbers that can move them.” ■