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Abortion Rights Ratified by Tuesday's Election Results

Ohio voters approved an abortion rights measure while Virginia Democrats won control of the legislature, guaranteeing rights there will be preserved.

Kentucky Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, won a second term in office Tuesday night.
Ryan C. Hermens/TNS
In Brief:
  • Democrats rode the abortion issue to victory in the Virginia House and Senate.
  • Abortion was also central to Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear's re-election.
  • In local races, Philadelphia voters picked a new mayor while Orlando and Indianapolis re-elected incumbents.

  • Democrats put practically all their chips on the abortion issue in this year’s elections. Their big bet paid off handily.

    In Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear won re-election, improving on his performance from four years ago, even as the GOP swept other statewide offices. Beshear and his allies – who collectively outspent Republican state Attorney General Daniel Cameron by roughly $20 million – made abortion a centerpiece of their campaign messaging.

    In Virginia, Democrats won control of the state House, which they'd lost two years ago, while retaining their majority in the state Senate. The results guarantee they can bring GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s legislative agenda to a halt over the next two years.

    Youngkin had coordinated a campaign message among Republicans, agreeing on a ban on abortions at 15 weeks, which would have been less severe than bans in other Southern states. That wasn’t enough to win over voters in the most competitive contests.

    “Republicans really suffered in those suburban districts where abortion is an important issue,” says Stephen Farnworth, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va.

    In Ohio, a ballot initiative creating a constitutional right to reproductive freedom passed comfortably. Its outcome was never much in doubt after voters rejected a measure back in August that would have raised the vote threshold needed to pass initiatives, which was seen as a proxy vote for the abortion measure.

    In Pennsylvania, Democrats will maintain their majority on the state Supreme Court. Democrat Dan McCaffery held a lead over Republican Carolyn Carluccio in the race, which drew some $17 million in spending – much of it, again, related to abortion. On election night, Carluccio complained to a reporter that abortion had played "way too much of a role" in the election.

    Since the Supreme Court invalidated the Roe v. Wade decision last year, voters have either approved constitutional amendments protecting abortion rights – in California, Michigan and Vermont last year, and now Ohio on Tuesday – or rejected measures to restrict abortion in Kansas, Kentucky and Montana.

    “Abortion, more than any other issue, has demonstrated the importance of state power,” says Heather Williams, interim president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. “Voters continue to reject Republicans on this issue at every turn.”

    Expect more states to vote on abortion rights initiatives next year – and expect Democrats to keep talking about the issue.

    “The results in Virginia are part of a pattern,” Farnsworth says. “Pretty much everywhere Democrats have talked about abortion, Republicans have paid the price for the reversal of Roe v. Wade.”

    Local Results

    Philadelphia Mayor-elect Cherelle Parker casts her vote at a polling place earlier in the day.
    Alejandro A. Alvarez/TNS
    Cherelle Parker will become Philadelphia’s 100th mayor – and its first woman mayor (and first Black woman mayor). The outcome in the heavily Democratic city was never in doubt after Parker prevailed in the party’s primary back in May, defeating more progressive rivals. Her job won’t be easy. Philadelphia is the nation’s poorest large city, beset by both gun violence and opioid problems.

    In Houston, as expected, state Sen. John Whitmire and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee are headed to a December runoff in the mayoral election. Polls indicate that the more conservative Whitmire is likely to prevail in the race to succeed term-limited Mayor Sylvester Turner.

    Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, a Democrat, won a third term, despite being challenged by free-spending Republican businessman Jefferson Shreve, who devoted nearly $15 million to the race. In Orlando, Mayor Buddy Dyer easily won a sixth term. Having already served for 20 years, Dyer promised that this term will be his last.

    Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple was defeated by Lily Wu, a former broadcaster who had heavy support from Americans for Prosperity and other conservative donors.

    Bright Spots for Republicans

    It wasn’t all bad news for the GOP. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves won re-election over Brandon Presley, a well-funded Democrat and member of the Public Service Commission. Presley sought to tie Reeves to a scandal involving misdirection of welfare funding, as well as hospital closures within the state, but Reeves was able to tout strong performances of the economy and school test results.

    Earlier, Republicans had also pulled off the only gubernatorial flip of the year, with Republican state Attorney General Jeff Landry set to take over for term-limited Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in Louisiana. Landry won a majority of the primary in October, which made a general election unnecessary under Louisiana law.

    In Manchester, N.H., Republican nonprofit executive Jay Ruias scored an upset in the mayor’s race, defeating Democrat Kevin Cavanaugh, a former state senator.

    Republican Ed Romaine won the race for county executive in Suffolk County, N.Y., completing the GOP's recent dominance of races in that county and in Long Island in general.

    Texas voters expressed their typical disdain for taxes. They not only approved a massive property tax package that had been passed by the Legislature this year, but banned any future consideration of taxes on wealth.

    Stay with Governing in the days ahead for coverage and analysis of other races across the country.

    As an added bonus, now that we are a year out from the 2024 general election, Alan talks through the issues and races worth watching in the year ahead on The Future In Context podcast.
    Alan Greenblatt is the editor of Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
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