America went to the ballot boxes yesterday, November 7, across more than half the country, to vote for local and statewide offices. While off-year elections tend to be low-key affairs, they are often seen as a precursor to the following year’s general or midterm events. A disappointing night for Republicans and a better-than-expected performance from Democrats perhaps offer a handful of teachable moments for the Big Show in 2024.
All eyes were on the Commonwealth of Virginia, which was voting on every seat of its General Assembly. The major question was whether Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin could see through his campaign slogan of “Keep the House, flip the Senate.” As the final results trickle in, it seems the political capital he hoped to accrue by turning the state from purple to red didn’t materialize. Democrat cheerleaders will almost certainly be heralding the defeat of yet another conservative “big beast,” but delving into the results perhaps indicates a setback rather than a slaying for Youngkin’s higher office hopes.
Before election day, the GOP held the House of Delegates with 48-46 seats with six vacancies (four of which were originally occupied by Democrats), while Democrats held the Senate 22-18. With almost all the votes counted, the morning light looks only fractionally changed (albeit a slim difference with a huge impact). Democrats now hold 51 seats in the House, and Republicans presently have 47 – there are two races not yet fully counted (57th and 82nd districts), but both are leaning GOP at the time of publishing.
As for the Senate, a similar picture emerges. Dems hold 21 seats, with the GOP on 17, and two seats not yet concluded. Again, both of these are leaning Republican, meaning that although Democrats kept the upper chamber, they did so with a reduced majority.
Election Day in the Governor’s Mansion
Two gubernatorial races were on the ballot yesterday, Kentucky and Mississippi – the former held by a Democrat, the latter by a Republican. Each party had hoped to flip the opposing governor’s state, and each side was disappointed.
The Magnolia State saw GOP Governor Tate Reeves returned to office after facing a stiff challenge from Brandon Presley (yes, a second cousin of Elvis). Democrats had hoped they could unseat the incumbent based on a handful of polls that suggested a victory was in striking distance. However, as Liberty Nation reported:
“It is again worth looking a little deeper into the surveys, as the sourcing of some is, perhaps, questionable. FiveThirtyEight lists five significant polls. In two unbiased surveys, Mason Dixon and Siena, Reeves wins by 8 and 11 points, respectively. In a poll commissioned by Reeves, he scores a whopping 18-point victory. The remaining two polls were both commissioned by Presley’s party (Democrat Governors Association and Presley himself); these put him just one point behind and dead level.
“Based on these numbers, it would be a major surprise if Reeves did not romp home with at least a six-point lead.”
In fact, with almost 98% of the vote counted, Reeves has a five-point lead – currently on 51.8%.
In Kentucky, Democrat Governor Andy Beshear comfortably held off GOP challenger Daniel Cameron with a final count of 52.5% versus 47.5%. In a deep red state, Beshear has demonstrated that he can hold appeal across the partisan divide. During his Tuesday night victory party, he said:
“Tonight, Kentucky made a choice, a choice not to move to the right or to the left but to move forward for every single family … A choice to reject ‘team R’ or ‘team D’ and to state clearly that we are one team, Kentucky.”
It was perhaps this jettisoning of party labels that convinced the voting public to send him back to the governor’s mansion. Strangely enough, he now appears to be in much the same boat as Governor Youngkin was in 2021 – a rising party star who can win in “enemy territory” and is young enough to be a draw for any future potential presidential ticket.
Abortion On and Off the Ballot
Abortion was a significant factor in the 2023 election results. In Ohio, the issue appeared on the ballot to determine whether access should become a state constitution-protected right. In Virginia, Glenn Youngkin – if both chambers had gone GOP – would have sought to enshrine a 15-week limit.
Ohioans voted to ensure abortion access, with the measure getting 56% support. The result suggests a couple of salient points to Republicans. First, abortion is a highly divisive issue, even in red-leaning states that can deliver “out of character” outcomes. And also that any state campaign on this issue will receive nationwide attention. This measure, for example, was backed by funds and support from the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and a considerable number of Democrat or Democrat-aligned organizations flush with cash and electioneering skills. On the other side of the argument were state politicos making a case that abortion is already legal in Ohio up to 22 weeks.
The Groundhog’s Shadow?
Naturally, political prognosticators will be sifting the facts and figures to determine what smoke signals were sent up by Tuesday’s elections. While pundits will safely be able to declare that the GOP is not in the ascendency, will they be able to claim that President Joe Biden is looking good for 2024?
This was not a good night for the Republican Party, but neither was it a victory for Joe Biden. In the lead-up to these contests, Democrats were no doubt hoping the looming shadow of the president would not signal a frosty voting climate ahead. It is notable that the president did not campaign for any state or candidate in these off-year elections; in fact, considering he is standing for re-election in precisely 12 months, the commander-in-chief kept a remarkably low profile. Campaigners for 2024 will be wondering how they can pull off the same strategy in just 12 months’ time when Biden will be the most significant name on the Democrat ballot.