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Democrats are celebrating major victories in Tuesday's elections

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Last night was a good election night for Democrats. The incumbent Democratic governor in Kentucky, Andy Beshear, was reelected. Voters in Ohio chose to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. That's an issue that Democrats tend to favor. And in Virginia, Democrats won enough seats to take control of the state legislature and tamp down Republican hopes for more limits on access to abortion. Jessica Taylor is here with us to walk us through the big takeaways from these elections. She's an editor for the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter. Good morning.

JESSICA TAYLOR: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: OK, first Ohio - voters decided to protect access to abortion. Does this say something about the power of this issue as a voting issue because, you know, it seems that it's been a voting issue for Republicans, but less so for Democrats, and I just - I'm wondering if something has shifted here?

TAYLOR: I think what shifted is that the court overturned Roe v. Wade, and I think for years Republicans were able to use the fact that they believed that they could use the court to stop abortion, which they did, as a motivating factor. And I think a lot of voters, and women voters especially, did not think that their rights would be taken away. When that happened last year, it just instantly, I think, became a motivating factor, and one that Democrats especially have been able to harness. And so we've seen these votes taking place in even very red places - Kansas last year and then now here in Ohio as well, a backlash to their heartbeat bill in different things and really, really stringent restrictions that they had. So I think it speaks to it as an issue, that this isn't just a Republican or a Democratic issue. This is one that - you have Republicans that are clearly voting for it, because Ohio is a state that Trump won by 8 points twice.

MARTIN: OK, so - OK, let's go to Kentucky. The Democratic governor was reelected, and then in Virginia wins by Democrats in legislative races, you know, so they held on to the Senate. They flipped the House. And that means that it's going to be a lot tougher for the Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, to kind of move ahead with his agenda. He's being sort of touted as a possible kind of long-shot presidential candidate. That's sort of the buzz. Does - do those wins say anything about the Democratic Party's strength overall?

TAYLOR: Well, I think it just says something and continues to say something about the resonance of abortion, because Youngkin really campaigned hard on a 15-week abortion ban. Now, he didn't refer to it as a ban. He sort of referred to it as a limitation and used different language, and this was really a test of whether Republicans could sort of message this differently. And I think it was clearly rejected in that regard. You mentioned him as - you know, he's sort of been seen as this potential, you know, knight riding in on a white horse to save the Republican primary. I always thought that was a long shot, even if he won. I think those hopes are sort of gone right now.

And even in Kentucky, where we had Andy Beshear, the Democrat, win, I think that had a lot of different components there. He was a very popular governor, and we just typically don't see governors lose. But he was even able to message this on abortion, sort of go on offense, even in Kentucky, which Trump won by 26 points, because of the state's stringent law that didn't even allow exceptions for rape and incest. And he really used that with a viral ad that had a rape survivor who was raped by her stepfather at 12. And it was just a really brutal ad that both Republicans and Democrats pointed out to me. So you really see, I think the - that issue being resonant in both of these states.

MARTIN: OK, briefly, Mississippi - no pickup there. The Republican governor easily won a second term. No Democrat's been - won a governor's race there in sort of 20 years, so not that surprising, but is there anything that you want to point out about that race?

TAYLOR: Well, I think it just shows, again, that governors are just incredibly hard to beat. In fact, you have to - in the past, going back to 2018, we've only seen two incumbent governors lose reelection, and both of them had approval ratings that were underwater. And so I think just the power of incumbency there is just very, very hard to do. You had the Democrat there, Brandon Presley, run on Medicaid expansion, trying to sort of run away from the party in a way, but it's just still Mississippi. And again, it's very hard to mobilize Black voters there. I think just the state's dynamics won out in that regard and the power of incumbency.

MARTIN: OK. We don't really have time to talk about this, but Democrats obviously worried about some new polling suggesting President Biden might not be the best person to take on the GOP front-runner in 2024. Do these election results do anything to make him feel better, make Democrats feel better?

TAYLOR: Maybe, but I think we're still too far out to - these were a lot of state issues, really.

MARTIN: All right, that's Jessica Taylor. She's an editor for the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter. Jessica, thank you.

TAYLOR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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