Democrats may wake up Wednesday and find reasons to celebrate. In so-called off-off year elections Tuesday, Democrats not only won the governorship in a state that Donald Trump carried by 30 points, they also captured all legislative levers in Virginia for the first time in a generation.
While the story of the evening was Democrats potentially ousting a Republican incumbent governor in Kentucky — Governor Matt Bevin says he will seek a recount — there were also notes of caution for Democrats in other contests and some lessons about which candidates to nominate.
Here are three takeaways from the Tuesday elections :
Warning signs for Trump and Mitch McConnell
There is no way Republicans can spin that what happened Tuesday was good for them. Yes, Republicans want to write off Bevin, the second most unpopular governor in America, as an anomaly.
In many ways, Bevin was an anomaly, but this argument misses a larger point: The election may have been about as clear cut of a rejection of Trump and Trumpism in a deeply Republican state as we have ever witnessed.
Yes, Democrats did win a US Senate seat in Alabama while Trump was president, a state that voted for him by an even larger margin than Kentucky did. Then again, it is hard to know how much that election was really about Alabama voters rejecting Trump as it was about the numerous credible allegations that the Republican nominee engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with minors.
But in Kentucky, Trump might as well have been the person on the ballot. In the closing days, Bevin made the race entirely about Trump on the stump and in television ads. In fact, impeachment was more of a talking point on the Bevin campaign than anything he did as governor. And if the point wasn’t driven home enough, Trump went to Lexington to hold an election eve rally. Even he seemed to get the stakes for himself.
“If you lose, they are going to say Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world. You can’t let that happen to me!” Trump said to the audience.
Well, they did. Now that the second most unpopular governor has apparently lost, the question becomes: What does this mean for Kentucky US Senator Mitch McConnell, the most unpopular senator in the country?
Democrats shouldn’t be cocky
Sure, Democrats can be happy with the win for Kentucky governor and for flipping both chambers of the Virginia state house to Democrat for the first time in a generation, but really, that is about it.
As longtime Kentucky Republican consultant Scott Jennings noted on Twitter on Wednesday morning: “For everyone reading the tip sheets this morning on Kentucky, remember — the GOP actually FLIPPED two Dem offices to Republican, and actually controls MORE offices than they did yesterday. Also holds supermajorities in both leg chambers.”
Listen, Democrats: Winning one statewide race against a very unpopular (and unlikable) incumbent by less than a half percentage point doesn’t mean Kentucky is in play for the general election in 2020. It may not say a whole lot about who will win in an actual swing state like Wisconsin, either.
And as for McConnell’s reelection chances, while definitely in question, he is not as inept a politician as Bevin. Plus, his own Democratic challenger has never won a race, unlike the incoming Democratic governor Andy Beshear, the currently elected state attorney general and son of the governor prior to Bevin.
If McConnell was anywhere on the ballot, it was through his aide, Daniel Cameron, who won the race for attorney general.
Outside of Kentucky and Virginia, Republicans actually had an OK evening. They won the Mississippi governor’s race, picked up seats in the New Jersey state house, and a nationally watched race for the Texas state house is headed to a run-off, where Republicans look like they are in a good position to win.
In the Trump era, people vote
One thing that may not get talked about enough is that since Trump has been president, turnout has been very high in nearly all elections. This was true in the 2017 elections, very true in the 2018 midterm elections, and looks to be true again in 2019.
Indeed, the high turnout was one of the first takeaways longtime Democratic consultant and Kentucky native Jim Cauley noticed Tuesday night. In the past three off-off year elections in Kentucky for governor (2007, 2011, 2015) turnout was hovering around 30 percent. This year, the projected turnout is 42 percent.
“Turnout was near presidential level for an off year election,” said Cauley. “Not sure what that says for or against Trump, but folks really want to be heard.”
Indeed, one silver lining in the Trump era is that it has energized voters across the country.