WASHINGTON (AP) — There was plenty in the early results of Tuesday’s off-year election to make Democrats happy, but it shouldn’t be enough to make them feel secure heading into next year’s presidential election.
Abortion rights supporters won an Ohio ballot measure and the Democratic governor of beet-red Kentucky held onto his office by campaigning on reproductive rights and painting his opponent as extremist on abortion.
The off-year elections have major implications for both of those states and provide a snapshot of American politics heading into 2024. But two big names — Joe Biden and Donald Trump — weren’t on the ballot.
Here are some key results from Tuesday’s voting.
ABORTION REMAINS POTENT FOR DEMOCRATS
Democrats notched two early wins Tuesday night in Kentucky and Ohio, both states that voted for Trump in 2020. In both states, abortion was the main issue.
In Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear was reelected in a state that Trump had won by 26 percentage points. Beshear had criticized the abortion views of his Republican challenger, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, in debates and television ads. One Beshear ad featured a woman who miscarried after being raped by her stepfather at age 12 expressing disbelief at Cameron’s opposition to abortion in cases of rape and incest.
In Ohio, a ballot measure preserving abortion rights passed in a state that Trump won by eight percentage points in 2020. Republicans had already tried to derail the measure by calling an unusual August referendum to make it harder to pass ballot measures, an initiative that was roundly rejected by Ohio voters.
The outcomes suggest a transformed political landscape since a conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal right to an abortion last year. Abortion rights measures have passed in a plethora of states as some other Republican-run states have instituted new bans on the procedure.
Abortion rights may not be a potent enough issue to swing an election on its own. Several GOP governors who supported new bans cruised to reelection last year, including Ohio’s Mike DeWine, Florida’s Ron DeSantis and Texas’ Greg Abbott.
But the Kentucky governor’s race shows it can still be a key element of a Democratic candidate’s victory.
Beshear’s father was a two-term governor and he has a long history of winning statewide elections. But abortion was his campaign’s key issue. And that should worry Republicans in competitive races next year.
GOOD NIGHT FOR DEMOCRATS, BUT MAYBE NOT FOR 2024
It was a good night for Democrats following a series of wins in special elections and comes after a stronger performance in last year’s midterms, which are usually crushing for the party in power in Washington.
But none of the races were an up-or-down decision on the incumbent president, Biden. And none featured Trump on the ballot or his ability to turbocharge turnout of infrequent voters.
It was too early to tell which party would control the Virginia statehouse. The state’s Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, pushed to flip control of the state senate to the GOP after winning the lower house and governorship in 2021. Virginia voted for Biden by 9 percentage points in 2020, and the fact that Democrats were sweating whether they’d be shut out there is a reminder of their precarious hold on power.
Democrats have performed well in recent special elections and did better than expected in 2022. It increasingly seems like the party starts from a position of strength. But it’s not clear that translates to its 80-year-old president, who faces widespread skepticism about his job performance and whether he is too old to serve a second term.
We’ll have to wait until 2024 to see how Biden fares.
Political candidates broke barriers in a handful of wins Tuesday.
Former Biden White House aide Gabe Amo will become the first Black member of Congress from Rhode Island after winning the special election in that state’s first congressional district.
The son of West African immigrants, Amo emerged from a 12-candidate September primary to succeed retiring Rep. David Cicilline. On Tuesday, Amo defeated Republican Gerry Leonard, a Marine veteran, in the heavily Democratic district.
And Philadelphia will have its first female mayor after Democrat Cherelle Parker defeated Republican David Oh in the overwhelmingly Democratic city.
Nicholas Riccardi, The Associated Press