With the cloud of impeachment hovering over the head of Donald Trump, three offseason political races may have provided a glimpse of the preferences of America’s voters — a year away from the pivotal 2020 presidential election.
The first big win for Dems on Tuesday came in the closely-contested governor’s race in Kentucky, where Democrat Andy Beshear has been projected to defeat Republican incumbent Matt Bevin.
Despite Beshear’s narrow margin of victory, 49.2 percent to his opponent’s 48.8, the win serves as a resounding defeat of a Republican in a red state — and a clap back at Trump who took the state by 30 percentage points in 2016. Hours before the election, Trump held a huge rally for Bevin, desperately hoping to maintain control over what had been a GOP stronghold.
Reportedly, voter turnout eclipsed 50 percent — massive for a midterm election and equivalent to the numbers reported in the 2016 election.
“It’s a massive loss for Donald Trump and all the Republican tools who blindly follow this failed reality TV host,” former Trump friend and MSNBC Host Joe Scarborough said.
“This is a repudiation of [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump,” poll watcher Natalie Anataliedz wrote on Twitter. “Kentucky showed defiance and is proof that the ballot box is our way out of this nightmare.”
In deep-red Mississippi, both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence went to bat during a rally early Tuesday for Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who ran for governor against Democrat Attorney General Jim Hood. Term limits prevented Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, from seeking reelection.
The race serves as the closest in recent state history, but with Jim Crow-era laws still in effect, it’s unlikely that Hood will be able to change Mississippi’s colors to blue.
With 51 percent of the vote counted late Tuesday night, Reeves held a 53.7 to 45.2 percent lead, albeit far from impossible to overcome.
However, Jim Crow-like laws prevent Blacks from having a say in state politics as a candidate needs a majority in the popular vote and a majority of Mississippi’s 122 state house districts to win election. If no candidate fulfills both requirements, the Mississippi House of Representatives, currently controlled by Republicans, selects the winner.
Still, the official results will likely remain unclear for some time as a lawsuit winds through state court over the Jim Crow law that all but assures Republicans a victory even if Hood captures as much as 54 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, Democrats flipped both the Virginia House and Senate on Tuesday, securing control over redistricting, protecting Medicaid expansion in the state, moving toward more aggressive and restrictive gun control legislation and positioning the party to help secure control of the White House in 2020.
Entering Tuesday’s elections, the GOP controlled the House of Delegates with 51 seats to 48 for the Democrats while the GOP held slim control in the state Senate, 20 to 19 seats with one vacancy in each chamber. All 140 seats were on the ballot.
Turnout in Virginia reportedly set a record for a non-governor state election with 96,000 recorded votes as of 5 p.m. compared to 63,000 in 2015 when the entire General Assembly faced reelection.
“Tonight we sent a message to the NRA in their own backyard. The NRA’s lobbyists, money and influence are no match for the voices of Virginians determined to make change,” said former U.S. Rep. and gun control advocate Gabrielle Giffords.
“Change is on the horizon because Virginia voters made it happen. The new legislators headed to Richmond have a mandate to protect Virginians from gun violence,” Giffords stated.
Democrats began the work of flipping the Virginia General Assembly in 2017 when they successfully regained control of 15 House seats. They entered this year’s elections holding 49 districts in the 100-member House and 19 districts in the 40-member Senate.
“While Republicans floundered under the albatross of Trump, Democrats focused on the issues that matter most to voters. Our candidates were united in protecting health care expansion, passing commonsense gun safety and investing in schools,” Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) President Jessica Post said in a statement.
“We also benefited from Trump’s unpopularity. As long as he continues to burn down Washington from his dumpster fire White House, Democrats will continue turning out to vote up and down the ballot,” Post stated.
In December, the DLCC announced an early investment of $1 million in Virginia, which sent a clear signal the Assembly could be flipped — opening a floodgate of support from national progressive organizations and energizing the Democratic grassroots in the commonwealth.
Tuesday’s victory also has national implications. Democrats control both of Virginia’s U.S. Senate seats and won a majority of the state’s congressional delegation in 2018.
“The GOP will no longer be able to gerrymander Virginia’s congressional maps, their already weak fundraising is going to dry up and they’ll lose this state in 2020,” Post stated. “Donald Trump can kiss the Commonwealth goodbye. Virginia is for lovers, not haters.”
Since Trump’s election, the DLCC has flipped 10 legislative chambers from red to blue. In 2020, Democrats said they will target more than 20 Republican-held chambers in over a dozen states.
“Democrats won’t let up. We’re focused on flipping statehouses every bit as much as the White House,” Post stated.
Maryland Elections Bring Few Surprises
While statewide contests dominated the scene in Virginia and other parts of the U.S., for Maryland the focus remained on local races. Four municipalities held elections in Prince George’s County: the cities of Bowie, College Park, Greenbelt and Laurel.
While the numbers still must be totaled, in Bowie it appears residents will have a new mayor for the first time in 20 years after G. Frederick Robinson decided to retire. Unofficially, Tim Adams took the largest number of votes with 3,977 votes in a field of five candidates. The mayor also serves on the seven-member City Council, which will have a slightly different look not only with a new city leader, but also because At-Large Council member James Marcos and District 4 Council member Isaac Trouth both chose not to seek reelection.
Meanwhile, 16 people ran for five open seats for at-large and three Districts
For the two at-large seats, residents chose Ingrid Harrison and incumbent Henri Gardner and Ingrid Harrison. They became the top vote-getters among four candidates with 5,065 and 4,845 votes, respectively.
In Laurel, Mayor Craig Moe received the top votes to remain as the city’s leader for a sixth term, unofficially garnering 1,559 votes against challenger Jeffrey W. Mills who received 685. Carl DeWalt will remain on the five-member council representing District 1. Michael R. Leszcz, who served as an at-large member, ran on the ballot for the second seat in that district.
Valerie M.A. Nicholas, who represented District 1, received 1,524 votes to replace Leszcz to become an at-large council member. Her opponent, Thomas E. Matthews Jr., received 658 votes. Voters in District 2 will see incumbent Keith R. Sydnor remain on council. Brencis Smith will join him because Council President Frederick Smalls didn’t seek reelection. Those elected will serve two-year terms.
WI staff writer William J. Ford contributed to this report.