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Democrats score major wins in three key states

Triumphs in Ohio, Kentucky and Virginia show how abortion continues to mobilize the Democratic electorate and give President Biden a boost for 2024

USA elections 2024
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear with his wife, Britainy Beshear, in his acceptance speech after being re-elected to office on Tuesday in Louisville.Timothy D. Easley (AP)
Miguel Jiménez

The Democratic Party has received a boost in morale when it needed it most. With President Joe Biden’s approval hitting rock bottom, Tuesday’s election night gave Democrats three important victories in elections in Ohio, Virginia and Kentucky — all of which revolved around the right to abortion. The triumphs come a year before the 2024 presidential election, as Biden trails Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.

Ohio voted on a constitutional amendment, Kentucky voted for its governor, and Virginia voted for a new state legislature. Through the constitutional amendment, voters in Ohio have enshrined abortion access in the Midwestern state. In Kentucky — a heavily Republican state — re-elected Democratic Governor Andy Beshear focused much of his re-election campaign on criticizing his Republican rival for his initial support of an anti-abortion law that allowed no exceptions for incest or rape. And in Virginia, where voters flipped the state Senate blue and kept the Democratic majority in the House of Delegates, a Republican victory would have allowed Governor Glenn Youngkin to enact a 15-week abortion ban. In all three cases, the pro-choice movement prevailed.

Tuesday’s wins are a breath of hope for the president’s bid for re-election in 2024. They are also a testament to how abortion advocacy continues to mobilize the Democratic electorate a year and a half after the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion and delegated its regulation to the individual states. Republicans tried unsuccessfully to skirt the issue of abortion and instead focus their campaigns on issues that have eroded Biden’s popularity, such as inflation, irregular immigration and crime.

The results, however, are far from conclusive. Kentucky Gov. Beshear, for example, won re-election by disassociating himself from Biden, despite Republican efforts to associate the two. During his first four-year term — during which he has had to respond to several natural disasters, including a string of deadly tornadoes earlier this year — Beshear has achieved great popularity. Beyond the issue of abortion, his re-election would not have been possible without his personal brand. He won 52.5% of the vote, compared to Trump-backed Republican Daniel Cameron’s 47.5%.

For Glenn Youngkin, the Republican governor of Virginia, Tuesday’s vote deals a blow to his undisguised presidential aspirations. In principle, the results appear to eliminate the possibility of a last-minute entry into the 2024 race. His moment may come in 2028, but for now he is weakened by a Democrat-controlled state legislature. Youngkin cast himself as the candidate capable of beating the Democrats on their home turf, but Virginia voters have disproved him. The abortion law he proposed — which would ban the procedure after 15 weeks with exceptions for rape, incest and medical emergencies — was relentlessly attacked during the state’s Democratic campaign.

In Virginia’s House of Delegates, Danica Roem will become the state’s first transgender state senator. Roem defeated her Republican opponent, Bill Woolf, by more than 3 percentage points. Woolf — a former Fairfax County police officer who supported a ban on transgender athletes competing in high school sports — was endorsed by the state’s Republican governor. Thus, the anti-trans message that Republicans have persistently spewed in recent months has not given them the electoral outcome they had hoped for.

Hamilton County Democratic Party at Ohio
Activists celebrate the approval in an Ohio referendum of the proposal to shield abortion in the state constitution.KAREEM ELGAZZAR/USA TODAY NETWOR (via REUTERS)

In Ohio, 56% of voters approved the proposal to shield the right to abortion in the state constitution. The abortion vote held Tuesday is the seventh to take place in different states since last year’s Supreme Court ruling. In all of them, abortion rights advocacy has won.

Ohio was once seen as the archetypal swing state — one of the battleground states that set the political tone of the country and where a victory by either party could determine who reached the White House. That tradition was broken in 2020, when Trump won the state but Biden won the presidency. In another ballot measure being held simultaneously in the state this Tuesday, recreational consumption of marijuana was legalized.

Democrats have plans to introduce new abortion referendums to coincide with the November 5, 2024, presidential election in key states such as Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada. It’s a strategy to get their voters to the polls and to attract independent voters and even Republican moderates to their cause. Although Biden is a practicing Catholic, he defends the right to abortion and is in favor of passing a federal law to make it accessible throughout the country.

On the other hand, Trump’s stance on abortion fluctuates. Initially, he defended the procedure. But more and more he has opted for avoiding the topic, preferring not to mention it at his campaign rallies. The former president, however, is favored by evangelical Christians, who make up a key portion of his base that he cannot risk losing. From what the polls have shown thus far, it is best for Republicans not to make abortion a primary campaign issue ahead of the 2024 ballot — the first national election to be held since Roe v. Wade was struck down.

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