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Abortion, Not Biden, Propels Democrats to Off-Year Election Wins
Barta Desk (U.S.News) | ৮ নভে, ২০২৩, ৩:৪৪ PM
Abortion, Not Biden, Propels Democrats to Off-Year Election Wins

Despite uncertainty about Joe Biden’s prospects in 2024, Democrats notched key victories in marquee contests of 2023. To one degree or another, each hinged on voter support for abortion rights.

Another off-year election, another good night for Democrats – a rejoinder to a spate of recent polls showing alarming 2024 prospects for President Joe Biden.

In Election Day’s marquee contests – the Kentucky gubernatorial race, Virginia’s legislative elections and a pro-abortion-rights ballot measure in Ohio – Democrats notched victories. To one degree or another, each hinged on voter support for abortion rights.

In Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear won a second term by a 5-point margin over Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Despite Kentucky’s strong Republican leanings, Beshear benefited from incumbency and strong approval ratings, and he managed to prevent Republicans from painting him as a Biden clone. Beshear also successfully painted Cameron as too conservative on abortion, even in a red state.

In Virginia, GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin lost his high-stakes bid to flip the Democratic-held Senate, which would have enabled him to enact a conservative agenda, including a 15-week abortion ban. Not only did the state Senate remain in Democratic hands, but the GOP also lost its majority in the state House.

And in Ohio, voters by a double-digit margin approved Issue 1, which establishes a state constitutional right to “make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions,” while essentially reimposing the status quo under Roe v. Wade, which the Supreme Court overturned last year.

Beshear’s reelection in Kentucky had much to do with the difficulty of ousting a reasonably popular incumbent, says Al Cross, director of the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

As the face of natural disaster recovery, Beshear fared especially well in portions of eastern Kentucky that had experienced severe storms during his tenure, Cross noted. In Letcher County (Whitesburg), Beshear was ahead by 5 points after losing the county by 8 in 2019. In Perry County (Hazard), he was leading by 11 after losing it by 9 four years ago. And in Breathitt County (Jackson), he was winning by 22 points in a county he’d only won by 2 points in 2019.

Beyond that, “the real test was Trump’s ability to move voters in a state race,” Cross says. “I’m not sure how much he did, but it was not enough.”

In the Virginia races, Rich Meagher, a Randolph-Macon College political scientist, says Youngkin deserves credit for taking the risk of "being a real strong party leader. But, boy, did that gamble not pay off. It's hard to imagine a worse outcome for him and his political future."

One clear indication of the salience of abortion as an issue for voters, the Ohio ballot measure was winning in more than two dozen counties, a far larger number than the Democratic nominee won in Ohio’s 2022 gubernatorial race (three), its 2022 Senate race (eight) or its 2020 presidential race (seven).

The pro-abortion rights vote “was predictably high in urban and suburban areas, but it was surprising how narrow the margins were for ‘no’ in so many rural and small-town counties where Republicans normally run up big numbers,” says Ohio State University political scientist Paul Beck.

Other contests went the Democrats’ way, too.

In Pennsylvania, Democrat Daniel McCaffery defeated Republican Carolyn Carluccio for a seat on the state Supreme Court, which now has a 5-2 Democratic edge heading into a 2024 election, when voting-related litigation is expected in a presidential battleground state. Democrats also appeared to win seats on lower courts.

As with the other headline contests nationally, the issue in the Supreme Court race “was really abortion,” says Larry Ceisler, a Philadelphia-based Democratic consultant. “It sends a good signal for Democrats in Pennsylvania in 2024.”

In neighboring New Jersey, Democrats held on to their existing legislative majorities with ease, even flipping a handful of Republican-held seats. Democrats are on track to maintain their 25-15 edge in the Senate and should add a few seats to the 46-34 edge in the Assembly that they had coming into Election Day.

“I can’t recall another New Jersey cycle in which one party won every one of its top legislative targets and the other party came up short across the state,” says Micah Rasmussen, director of Rider University’s Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics. “Republicans focused on all the wrong things – parental notification and criticisms of wind energy failed to motivate enough of their voters to turn out. Democrats, he says, were well prepared after a closer-than-expected governor's race two years ago, highlighting new property tax rebates as well as social issues.

Liberals scored another victory in Ohio, as Issue 2 – a measure to permit the recreational use of marijuana – passed by a similar margin to the abortion measure.

About the only bright spot for Republicans in a top-tier race was in Mississippi, where Gov. Tate Reeves won a second term – though the race was relatively close for a deep red state.

Democrat Brandon Presley, an elected member of the state Public Service Commission (and a distant relative of Elvis Presley), ran an aggressive campaign against Reeves. But a Democrat hasn’t won an election for Mississippi governor since 1999, and Presley ended up in the same place as another seemingly strong Democratic challenger, then-Attorney General Jim Hood, who lost to Reeves in an open-seat contest four years ago by 5 points.

Reeves prevailed by roughly the same 5-point margin, in a state where voting patterns are highly polarized by race and crossover voting is limited.

“Reeves was effective in branding Presley as a liberal Democrat, which he certainly was not on social issues, and someone who received most of his money from out-of-state liberal funders,” says Steve Rozman, a Tougaloo College political scientist. Donald Trump’s late ads endorsing Reeves “were an added bonus,” Rozman says.

Republicans could also take solace that in both Kentucky and Mississippi, their down-ballot nominees fared significantly better than their gubernatorial candidates did.

In Kentucky’s open-seat race for attorney general, Republican Russell Coleman ran more than 10 points ahead of Cameron in defeating the Democratic nominee, Pamela Stevenson. Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams – who worked with Beshear to negotiate bipartisan electoral reforms during his first term – ran about 13 points ahead of Cameron in his victory over Democrat Buddy Wheatley.

Meanwhile, in Mississippi, Republican Attorney General Lynn Fitch outpaced Reeves by about 7 points in winning a second term against Democrat Greta Kemp Martin. In the secretary of state race, incumbent Michael Watson, a Republican, outran Reeves by more than 8 points in defeating Democrat Ty Pinkins.

Beyond Ohio, a few other states decided ballot measures.

In Maine, voters overwhelmingly rejected Question 3, which would have turned two existing for-profit electric providers in Maine into a single, publicly owned utility called Pine Tree Power. Opponents successfully argued that the acquisition cost could have reached $13.5 billion, putting Pine Tree Power in a debt hole from day one.

Voters simultaneously approved Question 1, which would have required voter approval for certain state entities, including utilities, to incur more than $1 billion in debt. It was widely seen as a backstop for opponents of Pine Tree Power in the event Question 3 had passed.

The utilities “remain deeply unpopular,” says University of Maine political scientist Mark Brewer. “But the public utility plan was half-baked at best and this uncertainty concerned voters. Plus the campaign against it was effective.”

Maine voters did easily approve Question 4, which confirmed that vehicle owners and independent car repair shops could access information, tools and software to repair vehicles, something critics say are sometimes hoarded by auto manufacturers.

In Texas, voters easily approved three big investments: Proposition 14 (to provide $1 billion for state parks), Proposition 6 (to allocate $1 billion for water infrastructure) and Proposition 8 (to devote $1.5 billion to broadband).

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