Five takeaways from a winning election night for Democrats

November 9, 2023

Tuesday, November 7, was a good day for Democrats: In deep-red Kentucky, Democratic Governor Andy Beshear sailed to reelection; while, in Virginia, Democrats flipped control of the House of Delegates and maintained control of the state Senate, reports The Hill.

In a win for women nationwide, abortion rights advocates also saw a number of wins, most notably in Ohio, where voters chose to enshrine abortion protections.

The following are five takeaways from the 2023 election results:

Abortion shows no signs of waning as top issue

Abortion proved to be a top issue for voters more than a year after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Abortion access advocates saw a major victory in Ohio, where a majority of voters voted “yes” on Issue 1—a ballot measure that enshrines abortion rights in the state’s constitution.

Ohio was one of several states that rolled back abortion access following the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The state made headlines after a ten-year-old girl was denied an abortion in Ohio and had to travel outside of the state to undergo the procedure.

Meanwhile, in Kentucky, Beshear won his reelection bid after campaigning on expanding abortion access. Beshear’s campaign released an ad showing a prosecutor criticizing the lack of exceptions for rape and incest under Kentucky’s ban on the procedure.

His GOP opponent, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, said during the campaign that he would approve legislation that would include rape and incest as exceptions to the ban, but later appeared to tack to the right on the issue.

And in Virginia, Democrats maintained their majority in the state Senate and flipped the House of Delegates by largely campaigning in competitive districts on the threat of an abortion ban.

The victories for abortion rights advocates, particularly in right-leaning Ohio and Kentucky, are a good sign for Democrats going into 2024. A number of Democratic incumbents and candidates, including Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, have signaled that they plan to campaign on the issue next year.

As for Republicans, Tuesday’s results show that they have yet to find a successful message on abortion in a post-Roe World. Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) embraced a proposed 15-week ban on abortion with exceptions in the state, and a number of down-ballot Republicans followed his lead. But the strategy does not appear to have paid off.

In Virginia’s 16th State Senate District, incumbent Senator Siobhan Dunnavant (R) was unseated by Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg (D). VanValkenburg painted Dunnavant as extreme on the issue, while Dunnavant embraced Youngkin’s proposed ban and even ran an ad calling it “reasonable.”

Democrats are energized 

Democrats benefited from high turnout in Tuesday’s off-year elections. This was evident in the red states of Ohio and Kentucky, where Democrats turned out in high numbers. In Ohio, the Issue 1 ballot measure sparked an early voting surge that clearly benefited Democrats. In Kentucky, Democrats benefited from strong turnout, while Republicans struggled to bring out their base in what is typically a reliably red state.

Strong Democratic turnout was evident in Virginia as well; NBC News reported earlier Tuesday that Election Day turnout at one precinct in Henrico County, in the greater Richmond area, reached 1,200 people by the middle of the day. There are more than 3,200 people registered to vote at that precinct, and 800 people cast their ballots during the early voting period.

Democrats appear to have bet correctly on using the threat of Republican-led abortion bans in various states as a means to drive out the base and appeal to independent voters as well.

Beshear is a rising star for Democrats 

Beshear emerged as the biggest star of the night, proving that a Democrat could win in a deep-red state. He outperformed Biden, who lost Kentucky in 2020, and even improved his own margins from 2019.

At 45 years old, Beshear is one of the younger national faces of the Democratic Party and could be floated for other offices in the future. Beshear also provided a blueprint for Democrats to win in red states by running a localized campaign and focusing on kitchen table issues.

“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,” Beshear said in remarks from his campaign’s victory party.  He lauded “a choice to reject ‘team R’ or ‘team D’ and to state clearly that we are one ‘team Kentucky.’”

Beshear has also provided Democrats running in 2024 with a potential strategy on how to campaign in the shadow of an incumbent Democratic president with low approval ratings.

Youngkin’s brand dealt a blow

Youngkin threw himself on the line for Republican candidates in Virginia, but his efforts were not enough to stop Democrats from flipping the House of Delegates and maintaining their control of the state Senate.

The governor got involved in Republican legislative primaries earlier this year to ensure that electable candidates made it to the general election. Youngkin’s Spirit of Virginia PAC also played a major fundraising role for Republicans; he even appeared in several ads for Republican candidates and joined them on the campaign leading up to Election Day. Youngkin also pushed for Republicans to embrace early and mail-in voting in an effort to boost turnout.

Tuesday’s election results in Virginia are a sharp reversal from Youngkin’s own election to the governor’s mansion in 2021, which also saw Republicans win control of the House of Delegates. Those elections catapulted Youngkin to the national stage, with many Republicans looking to the governor as the future of their party.

However, The Hill says, not all hope is lost for Youngkin, by any means. The governor still enjoys high approval ratings in Virginia. A Roanoke College poll released in September showed Youngkin’s approval rating among Virginians at 51%.

Questions remain about Biden’s strength

President Biden and his allies were certainly feeling enthusiastic following Tuesday’s election night results. “Across the country tonight, democracy won and MAGA lost. Voters vote. Polls don’t. Now let’s go win next year,read one tweet from Biden’s campaign account on X, the website formerly known as Twitter.

But Biden is still being dogged by questions about his electoral strength heading into a possible rematch with former President Trump. Just hours before the election results trickled in, a CNN poll was released showing Trump leading Biden 49% to 45% among registered voters.

A New York Times and Siena College poll released on Monday, November 6, showed Trump leading Biden in the critical swing states of Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Significantly, Biden wasn’t front-and-center in a lot of Tuesday’s races. The president rolled out endorsements in Virginia’s state legislature races, but didn’t campaign in any of the country’s off-year elections this this year. In Kentucky, Cameron and Republicans worked to tie Beshear to Biden—and while Beshear did not run away from Biden, he did not run toward him either.

Biden and his team will work to use Tuesday’s Democratic victories to their advantage—but it’s unclear whether voters will ultimately support his positions at the polls.

Research contact: @thehill