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Republican gets rare win in Kentucky’s governor’s race

Promised to roll back health law; Results could be bellwether for 2016

Matt Bevin (right, with wife Glenna) targeted Medicaid expansion.

Justin Sellers/Associated Press

Matt Bevin (right, with wife Glenna) targeted Medicaid expansion.

Kentucky voters elected just the second Republican in four decades to hold the governor’s office, in a race Tuesday that hinged largely on President Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act.

The result was a potentially troubling sign for Democrats ahead of next year’s presidential election and represented a big win for the GOP as it continues to consolidate political power across the South. Democrats also were thumped in Virginia, where they made a costly push to win a majority in one chamber of the state Legislature.

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The governor’s race in Kentucky was the highest profile contest in Tuesday’s off-year elections. The only other gubernatorial campaign was in Mississippi, where Governor Phil Bryant, a Republican, easily won reelection.

Elsewhere, Houston voters defeated a closely watched ordinance that would have established nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people in the city, and Ohio voters rejected an initiative that sought to legalize the recreational and medicinal use of marijuana.

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In Kentucky, Republican businessman Matt Bevin had waged a campaign to scale back the state’s Medicaid expansion that was made possible under the federal health care overhaul. Some 400,000 lower-income people who gained health coverage under the expansion could be affected.

Bevin ran as an outsider, emphasizing his Christian faith along with his support for Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

His Democratic opponent, two-term Attorney General Jack Conway, embraced Obama’s health care reforms, saying hundreds of thousands of residents could lose access to taxpayer-funded insurance if Bevin won.

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Around the country, several high-profile ballot initiatives tested voter preferences on school funding, marijuana, gay and lesbian rights, and the sharing economy. Despite the relatively low number of races, the results could be an important bellwether of sentiment ahead of next year’s presidential elections.

In Virginia, a swing state, Democrats failed in an expensive bid to take control of the state Senate and empower Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe in negotiations with Republicans who control the state House. With the losses in Virginia and Kentucky, it was a rough Election Day for Democrats.

The governor’s race in Mississippi was overshadowed by a fight over a constitutional amendment that would allow people to sue the state to increase funding for public schools. Critics say it would take budget decisions away from Mississippi lawmakers and give the courts too much power. The Legislature has put forward its own ballot measure that would prohibit ‘‘judicial enforcement’’ of school funding.

The outcome could prompt similar efforts in other states where education remains a key challenge for lawmakers as they look to balance their budgets with tax revenues that have yet to rebound to pre-recession levels.

In Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, efforts to secure nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people failed by a 2-to-1 margin. Such laws have become a priority for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender groups. Opponents said the measure would have infringed on their religious beliefs.

Houston voters also were choosing from among 13 candidates to replace outgoing Mayor Annise Parker. It was one of more than 300 mayoral races happening across the country. In Philadelphia, former longtime Councilman Jim Kenney was elected mayor on a promise to fight poverty.

The Salt Lake City mayoral race featured two-term incumbent Ralph Becker, one of Obama’s appointees on a climate change task force, and former state lawmaker Jackie Biskupski. If Biskupski wins, she will be the city’s first openly gay mayor.

San Francisco voters were deciding a citizen-backed initiative to restrict the operations of Airbnb, the room-rental site.

And Colorado voters decided to let the state keep $66 million in tax revenue generated from the sale of recreational marijuana. An existing state law requires excess tax revenue to be returned to taxpayers, but on Tuesday voters agreed to make an exception.

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