Joe Biden’s presidency has been made up of long periods of bad polls punctuated by shockingly good elections for his Democratic party. Case in point: yesterday. Barely 48 hours after the NYT and Siena College released a new poll showing Republican contender Donald Trump leading in almost every crucial swing state, Americans delivered multiple victories for the Democrats in local and statewide elections – securing control of both chambers of the Virginia state legislature, re-electing Democratic Governor Andy Bashear in deep-red Kentucky, flipping multiple competitive state assembly seats in New Jersey, electing a Democratic judge to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, legalising marijuana in Ohio – the list goes on.
The evening’s other main victor was, arguably, abortion rights. Not only did Ohio voters add the right to abortion to the state constitution, but Democratic candidates up and down the ballot outperformed expectations while running explicitly (and sometimes almost exclusively) on expanding and protecting abortion access.
Despite last night being a good night for Democrats almost everywhere, there were mixed signs for the Biden campaign.
Virginia. There have been rumours in DC for months that the GOP donor class is pushing Virginia’s Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin to join the presidential primary and challenge Donald Trump. Some Republicans may be rethinking that this morning. Youngkin was not up for reelection yesterday, but he spent a lot of time, money and influence making the case that Virginians should give Republicans complete control of the state’s government so they could pass what he called a “compromise” on abortion – a 15-week ban with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother. Instead, voters gave Democrats control of both houses of the state’s legislature.
- Good for Biden – Despite Youngkin’s gubernatorial victory in 2021, it seems to be getting easier and easier for Democrats to win in Virginia. On election night in 2016, one of the first signs it was going to be a good night for Republicans was Hillary Clinton barely squeaking out a win in the state. In 2020, Biden won it by 10 points. Putting Virginia more comfortably in the “likely Democrat” category would make the presidential election map meaningfully easier for the party going forward.
- Bad for Biden – Off-year elections in Virginia are – historically – not indicative of the following year’s midterm or presidential election.
Kentucky. The Democrats managed to hold onto one of their two remaining governorships in the South when Andy Bashear won reelection in Kentucky last night. In a state Biden lost by 26 points in 2020, Bashear secured 52.5 per cent of the vote.
- Good for Biden – Bashear ran hard on expanding abortion rights, showing the issue will be a potent political tool for Democrats next year, even in the reddest of red states.
- Bad for Biden – Bashear didn’t publicly rebuke Biden, but he didn’t exactly embrace him either. He probably won reelection despite Biden rather than because of him.
Ohio. Voters approved both Ohio’s high-profile referendums last night – one to legalise recreational marijuana use and one to add protections for abortion access to the state’s constitution.
- Good for Biden – Ohio is the swingiest of swing states, and any successful effort to drive turnout for Democrats (or Democrat-backed causes) should be added to the party’s playbook. In other words: if Democratic groups were able to win a referendum on abortion rights handily in Ohio this year, they’re going to be thinking of how to use abortion as an issue to Biden’s advantage in the state next year.
- Bad for Biden – Exit polls show that a lot of Republican voters stayed home in Ohio yesterday. Although Trump won the state in 2020 with 53 per cent of the vote, only 43 per cent of this year’s electorate voted for Trump. And if the former president is on the ballot in 2024, you can bet they won’t stay home.