Results of state and local elections nationwide contain some serious lessons for Democrats and Republicans alike.
State and local elections across the country this week produced warning signs for Democrats and Republicans as they press toward the 2016 presidential contest, now just a year away.
Democrats lost more ground in legislatures and governor’s mansions, raising questions about the party’s strength when President Obama’s name isn’t at the top of the ballot. Democrats have important demographic advantages in the states that often determine presidential elections, but the party is struggling in power centers outside Washington, D.C., that influence policy and steer congressional redistricting.
Close contest in race for Salt Lake City mayor
Vote tallies Wednesday indicated Salt Lake City was poised to narrowly elect its first openly gay mayor in what would mark another milestone for the LGBT movement in the conservative state with a history of hostility toward gays and lesbians.
Former Utah lawmaker Jackie Biskupski was leading two-term incumbent Ralph Becker by 1,450 votes, according to election results released late Tuesday.
Nearly 24,000 countywide ballots remained to be counted, but it was not known how many involved the mayor’s race, Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said.
Biskupski spokeswoman Maryann Martindale said an analysis of the votes revealed no scenarios in which Becker could make up the deficit. However, Martindale said her camp understood why Becker wasn’t conceding and respected the process.
By state law, no more results will be released until the final canvass on Nov. 17. Still, many LGBT people and supporters were already celebrating.
The Associated Press
The GOP is casting its victory in the Kentucky gubernatorial race as a blueprint for how Republicans can run successfully against Obama’s health-care law.
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The elections weren’t all good news for Republicans. For party leaders anxious about Donald Trump and Ben Carson’s lead in the GOP presidential primary, the win in Kentucky for Matt Bevin — a wealthy businessman and tea-party favorite who never held political office — could be a sign that many voters are serious about electing outsider candidates.
Party leaders are skeptical that outsiders’ rebellious appeal will be sufficiently deep and lasting to send such a candidate to the White House.
“We’re at this interesting moment where clearly there’s a lot of frustration in the electorate, which means voters are going to be more volatile,” said David Winston, a Republican pollster.
To be sure, off-year elections are imperfect predictors of presidential contests. Turnout is far lower and the voters who do show up tend to be older and less diverse, favoring Republicans.
Still, Tuesday’s contests are being scoured for signs of the electorate’s mood less than three months before the leadoff Iowa caucuses.
For Democrats, results in Kentucky, Virginia and elsewhere were part of a troubling pattern. Since Obama was elected in 2008, the party has lost 12 governorships and more than 900 state legislative seats, ceding control of 30 legislative chambers. On Capitol Hill, Democrats have given up control of the House and Senate.
The fresh losses raise serious questions for Democrats about how the party will fare next year, when Obama isn’t on the ticket. It’s also raising questions about where Democrats will draw their next generation of leaders.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, is making specific campaign appeals to Hispanics, blacks and young voters who helped propel Obama to victory. And she’s promising she’ll work to help candidates down the ballot win their races, too.
The Democratic defeats have implications for policies and politics. While most Democratic governors have expanded their states’ Medicaid coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act, several Republicans have resisted, including in Florida and Texas. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, tried to expand Medicaid but was blocked by Republicans.
Democrats’ efforts to fully implement Obamacare got even harder Tuesday. McAuliffe failed in his campaign to put Virginia’s Legislature back in Democratic hands. In Kentucky, Bevin won, in part, on a pledge to repeal the state’s Medicaid expansion, propelling a Republican into the state’s governor’s mansion for just the second time in four decades.
Bevin cast himself as a political outsider, one who was self-funded and shunned by Kentucky’s political establishment after he challenged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the 2014 GOP Senate primary. It’s an approach that fits with the outsider appeal of Trump and Carson, who are roiling the GOP presidential primary and worrying establishment Republicans who fear neither of them could defeat Clinton in a general election.
Asked Wednesday whether Bevin’s win bodes well for his own political future, Trump sounded confident. He said: “There is something happening, folks, I will tell you. There is something happening.”
In an interview, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who is struggling in the GOP presidential polls, aligned himself with Bevin’s success as a political outsider.
“That’s the same thing I ran on when I ran in 2010,” Paul said of his Senate victory five years ago.
Bevin wasn’t the only outsider who won this week. In Mississippi, Republican poultry and cattle farmer Vince Mangold made his political debut by ousting Democratic House Minority Leader Bobby Moak, who had been in office for 30 years.
Republicans targeted Moak with mailers displaying his photo next to Obama’s under the headline, “Bobby Moak and Barack Obama … A Liberal Love Affair.”
Mangold said he campaigned on lower taxes and a good education system, but he attributed his victory not to any particular policy stances but to his outsider status.
“As I traveled around the district, the overwhelming reply was they were ready for a change,” Mangold said Wednesday.