Democrats and abortion rights advocates notched a string of electoral victories on Tuesday, including in conservative Ohio and Kentucky, an early signal that reproductive rights remain a potent issue for Democrats ahead of the 2024 presidential race.
In Ohio, a state that voted for Republican Donald Trump by eight percentage points in the 2020 presidential election, voters approved a constitutional amendment guaranteeing abortion rights, Edison Research projected.
Unofficial figures on the website of the Ohio secretary of state showed that 56.62 per cent of the votes cast favoured the amendment.
The outcome extended an unbeaten streak for abortion access advocates since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling and eliminate a nationwide right to end pregnancies.
In Virginia, Democrats won control of both legislative chambers, according to the Associated Press. The result was a rebuke for Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who campaigned hard for Republican candidates and sought to unify them around his proposal to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
And in Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear won a second four-year term, Edison projected, defying the conservative leaning of a state that voted for Trump by more than 25 percentage points in 2020.
The contests were among several across the U.S. offering critical clues about where the electorate stands less than 10 weeks before the Iowa presidential nominating contest kicks off the 2024 presidential campaign in earnest.
The results could help assuage concerns among some national Democrats who are worried about President Joe Biden’s unpopularity with voters.
In a statement, Biden praised the Ohio result, saying, “Tonight, Americans once again voted to protect their fundamental freedoms — and democracy won.”
Beshear defeated Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who would have been the state’s first Black chief executive.
Despite his party affiliation, Beshear has maintained high approval ratings, buoyed by his leadership through the coronavirus pandemic and natural disasters. He also ran on protecting abortion rights, though he is powerless to overturn the state’s near-total ban.
In his victory speech, Beshear called his win a “clear statement that anger politics should end right here and right now.”
Ohio was the latest abortion battleground, nearly a year and a half after the Supreme Court decision.
Last year, abortion rights advocacy groups scored a series of victories by placing abortion-related referendums on the ballot, including in conservative states.
They have doubled down on that strategy. The outcome in Ohio will boost efforts already underway to put similar ballot measures before voters in several states for 2024, including swing states Arizona and Florida.
Anti-abortion forces campaigned against the Ohio amendment as too extreme, while abortion rights groups warned that rejecting it would pave the way for a stringent ban to take effect.
Tuesday’s vote renders moot a six-week limit the Republican-controlled legislature had previously approved. That law had been on hold pending a legal challenge.
In Virginia, all 40 seats in the Senate and 100 seats in the House of Delegates were on the ballot.
Democrats sought to make abortion the top issue. Gov. Youngkin had portrayed his proposed 15-week limit as a moderate compromise, a tactic he hoped could serve as a blueprint for Republicans next year.
Youngkin poured millions of dollars from his political action committee into the race, and a Republican victory would likely have amplified calls from some party donors for him to step into the presidential race.
Biden added his weight to the Virginia races last week, issuing endorsements for 16 Democrats running in competitive races for the state House and seven in the Senate, while sending out a fundraising plea to supporters.
Mississippi Republican governor re-elected
Elsewhere on Tuesday, Republican Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves won a second term over his Democratic challenger, Brandon Presley, a former mayor and the second cousin of singer Elvis Presley, according to Edison projections.
Presley raised more funds than Reeves but faced an uphill climb in a state that voted for Trump over Biden by more than 16 percentage points in 2020.
Both Reeves and Cameron in Kentucky were endorsed by Trump, the frontrunner for his party’s 2024 White House nomination despite a litany of legal entanglements.