Six election night takeaways: Democrats win big, but GOP holds Mississippi

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(WASHINGTON) -- Democrats are projected to notch several key wins across Tuesday's elections, indicating both that abortion remains a motivating factor for voters and that the party can remain successful, including in red states, even in the face of President Joe Biden's poor approval ratings.

A referendum to guarantee abortion access in Ohio was set to pass by a hefty margin, and Democrats in Virginia were projected to flip control of the entire state Legislature, as the party had loudly warned that unified GOP control in Richmond would result in a 15-week abortion ban.

Meanwhile, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, won a second term in a part of the country that just three years ago was handily won by former President Donald Trump, dealing a setback to Daniel Cameron, a rising star and state attorney general who was Republicans' nominee in the race.

Here are six takeaways from Tuesday's results:

Backlash to Roe v. Wade doesn't seem to be going away

Tuesday's election results made even more plain that, in the wake of last year's Supreme Court decision scrapping constitutional protections for abortion, voters are casting ballots in favor of abortion access when it is a prominent election issue.

The Ohio vote on state Issue 1, to enshrine in the state constitution the "right to make and carry out one's own reproductive decisions," including abortions, may ultimately pass by a double-digit margin in a state that Trump won twice by eight points and which recently elected a Republican governor and senator.

And in Virginia, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin had pushed hard for the GOP to take over the state government -- while pitching what he called a 15-week "limit" on abortion, with exceptions -- only to be rebuffed by Democratic messaging warning that Republicans wanted to curtail access.

Those two races followed a growing trend across the country, including in conservative places like Kansas and Kentucky, of states passing pro-abortion rights referendums since the 2022 decision striking down Roe v. Wade, the 1972 Supreme Court decision that first codified national protections for the procedure.

And despite the consistent results, Republicans still have been unable to unify around consistent messaging on abortion, including whether there should be federal restrictions, what exceptions should apply and how late into a pregnancy the procedure should or should not be allowed.

"Going into 2024, the energy is still on Democrats' side. As long as Republicans embrace unpopular abortion stances and run extreme candidates, they will continue to under-perform. Fortunately for Democrats, the GOP seems unwilling to course correct," said Democratic strategist Lis Smith.

A bad night for GOP rising stars

Tuesday's results also marked major bumps in the road for Republican rising stars.

Youngkin, who won the Virginia governorship in what was seen as an upset in 2021, has been touted as a future presidential contender.

But his state's legislative elections are likely to undercut his track record, given how much he involved himself in the races -- spending months and raising millions of dollars to help boost other Republicans.

It's unlikely that speculation over Youngkin's future will fade completely, given his ability two years ago to win the governorship in a state that Biden won by 10 points in 2020, though Tuesday's results will likely spark questions about his ability to win over Democratic voters in a post-Roe America.

"It ... appears Youngkin doesn't have as much political juice as he thought he did," said Democratic strategist Karen Finney.

Cameron's loss also tarnishes another emerging leader in the party.

The Kentucky attorney general, a 37-year-old Black Republican, is both a protégé of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and a Trump supporter who was able to win the former president's endorsement. That combination fueled conjecture that Cameron would be able to bridge the Republican Party's warring factions.

However, his loss in a state as Republican-friendly as Kentucky -- despite its history of voting for Democratic governors -- is likely to leave a mark. He looks set to lose to Beshear by more than then-Gov. Matt Bevin did in 2019, despite Bevin being swamped by approval issues.

How Beshear won

Beshear's victory offers a potential path for Democrats looking to separate themselves from the national party brand and succeed in less liberal territory.

He ran in part on his record helping his state get through the COVID-19 pandemic and devastating floods and tornadoes, on top of touting economic development projects that had started during his term.

Cameron repeatedly sought to shift the focus to national issues, running ads trying to tie Beshear to Biden and promoting his own endorsement from Trump.

However, voters of all stripes told ABC News during a recent reporting trip to Kentucky that they viewed Beshear as separate from Biden, a message the governor incorporated in his victory speech Tuesday.

He called his win proof that "candidates should run for something and not against someone."

National Democrats said they are taking notes.

"The overall results also illustrate the strength of the ground game, clearly defining the choice and importance of connecting with voters on their terms and the issues they care about. Gov. Beshear's victory in Kentucky was a prime example," Finney said.

Mississippi a silver lining for Republicans

Mississippi's gubernatorial race did offer one big silver lining to Republicans.

Gov. Tate Reeves won a second term, ABC News projects, amid late speculation that Democratic nominee Brandon Presley, a second cousin of Elvis Presley, could take the race at least to a runoff by keeping the governor from winning at least 50% of the vote.

Presley had launched a full-court press to raise turnout among Black voters in a state where African Americans make up slightly less than 40% of the population, though it was not enough to keep his challenge alive. He also tried to link Reeves to corruption allegations, which Reeves dismissed.

The governor, for his part, depicted Presley as part of a band of "radical" Democrats -- who haven't won the governor's mansion in more than two decades.

Philadelphia elects its first female mayor

Various parts of the country made history with their election choices on Tuesday.

Among them, Philadelphia was projected to elect its first female mayor.

Cherelle Parker previously worked as a teacher and served in the state legislature, representing northwest Philadelphia, and will serve as the city's 100th mayor. She centered her campaign around public safety, education and economic issues, and she received endorsements from Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Her Republican opponent, David Oh, a former colleague on the Philadelphia City Council, would have also made history had he won, as the city's first Asian American mayor.

Elsewhere, Democratic House of Representatives candidate Gabe Amo, a former Biden administration official, was projected to become the first person of color that Rhode Island sends to Congress.

Biden polls poorly, but other Democrats keep winning

Tuesday's positive results for Democrats seem to fly in the face of recent public polling showing major issues for Biden, the leader of his party, raising concerns that he could be an anchor at the top of the ballot next year.

However, Democrats have consistently performed well in non-presidential elections since he took office, including during last year's midterms and several specials this year.

Democrats who spoke to ABC News on Tuesday said the results don't mean they're out of the woods yet -- but that the party may not be in as dire straits as some had feared.

"Voters in 2022 and '23 have showed up for Democrats and our issues when the stakes are very high. That's the best news out of tonight, because the 2024 stakes will be astronomical," argued Matt Bennett, co-founder of the center-left group Third Way.

For his part, Biden took a victory lap Tuesday -- calling to congratulate successful candidates like Beshear and Parker and seemingly swiping at polls showing him behind Trump in key swing states as a 2020 rematch appears increasingly likely.

"Across the country tonight, democracy won and MAGA lost," Biden wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, referencing Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan. "Voters vote. Polls don't."

Wednesday, November 8, 2023 at 9:37AM by Tal Axelrod, ABC News Permalink