A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Democrats won big in last week’s off-year elections, but analyst says don’t read too much into the trend

By Elaine S. Povich
Pew Charitable Trusts

Democrats flipped the Virginia legislature Tuesday — taking control of both chambers and the governorship for the first time in a generation — and apparently knocked off Kentucky’s Republican governor who had tied himself closely to President Donald Trump.

Conversely, in deep-red Mississippi, Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves won the race for governor and the GOP looked to maintain a super-majority in the legislature, the first time since Reconstruction that Republicans controlled both houses and the governorship.

University of Virginia Center for Politics analyst Kyle Kondik says don’t read too much in to Democrats Nov. 5 victories. (Photo by Tom Latek, Kentucky Today)

In New Jersey, Republicans were hoping to make inroads into the wide margin by which Democrats control the legislature, but the Associated Press reported that over a dozen races were too close to call as of Wednesday morning.

Though a couple of races in Virginia were also too close to call, Republicans lost in several suburban districts. Democrats touted gun control measures and Medicaid expansion, issues that Republicans had mostly voted against in the General Assembly. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat who survived a blackface scandal less than a year ago, now presides over a state entirely controlled by his party.

In Kentucky, Trump had campaigned for Gov. Matt Bevin, as did Vice President Mike Pence. Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear claimed victory, but Bevin, who trailed by about 5,000 votes, refused to concede. Recounts are not mandatory in Kentucky and Bevin has not yet said whether he will ask for a recanvas of the vote.

While other Republicans did well in the Bluegrass State, Bevin came with baggage. A recent Morning Consult survey rated Bevin the governor with the highest disapproval rate in the country, and he had put off some voters with his bluster.

Democrats rejoiced but Republicans were quick to label the Bevin loss an aberration. Trump, in a tweet, noted other GOP victories in Kentucky’s legislature and suggested the media “will blame Trump” because Bevin fell short.

The Lexington Herald-Leader, however, reported that Trump’s visit to Lexington may have plumped up Beshear’s Democratic support in the city and surrounding suburbs, offsetting GOP victories in rural counties in the southern and western parts of the state.

Suburbs and exurbs in Virginia also trended Democratic, boosting blue candidates there and providing the margin of victory in that state’s legislature.

“On election night, we saw suburbanites dramatically shift the political balance in two states toward Democrats, just as they did around the country in dozens of House races,” said Lawrence Levy, executive dean at the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

“If Trump and the Republicans can’t stop this blue suburban trend, they will be in very serious trouble next year and beyond.”

But Kyle Kondik, an analyst and spokesman for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, cautioned in an email to Stateline against reading too much into the Democratic suburban trends in Virginia and Kentucky.

“We are seeing the same trends across different kinds of races and states — suburbs and some exurbs are trending Democratic, while white rural areas generally are moving toward the Republicans. In some of the key states next year, there are lots of votes in rural areas, so one cannot just assume that this tradeoff is always going to be good for Democrats.”

Elaine S. Povich covers consumer affairs for Stateline

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