In Depth

What do the Democrat election victories mean for Trump in 2020?

Opposition wins in Virginia and Kentucky spell trouble for president ahead of next year’s election

Donald Trump’s hopes for the 2020 presidential election have been shaken by two major Democrat victories in state elections this week.

In the biggest upset of Tuesday’s election night, Democrat Andy Beshear beat incumbent Republican governor Matt Bevin in a gubernatorial election in Kentucky, one of the most conservative states in the country.

And while the Republicans performed well in a simultaneous election in Mississippi, the opposition party also won majorities in Virginia’s House and Senate. The Virginia result gives the Democrats “full control of the state’s government” for the first time since the early 1990s, “solidifying what had once been a swing state as a stronghold for the party”, CNN reports.

As the BBC notes, the message delivered by US voters was “one that again should be of concern to Donald Trump and the Republican Party”.

So what does this all mean for the beleaguered US president?

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What happened in Kentucky?

Attorney General Beshear, whose father Steve was the state’s last Democratic governor, claimed victory over incumbent governor Bevin after final results gave the Democrat a narrow lead of 0.4%.

According to Vox, Bevin was “among the most unpopular governors in the country”, after making controversial comments about Kentucky’s teachers and threatening to cut Medicaid expansion.

However, the 52-year-old says he will not concede and has requested a recount, citing unspecified “irregularities” in the voting process.

All the same, the result is a troubling one for Trump, who won the state by 30 percentage points in 2016.

The president campaigned in Kentucky just a day before this week’s vote, “explicitly tying Bevin’s race to his own reputation”, says Vox.

“If you lose, they’re going to say Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world,” Trump said at a rally for Bevin in Lexington on Monday. “You can’t let that happen to me!” 

Bevin also “portrayed the election as a referendum on Trump”, who called Beshear “too liberal, too extreme and too dangerous”, adds The Guardian.

The Telegraph notes that in a further blow to the president, Beshear’s win could “bolster Democrats’ slim hopes of ousting Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is on the ballot himself in the state next year”.

Meanwhile, commentators are pointing out that the Democrats are increasingly winning power in suburban districts - traditionally a key demographic for the Republican Party - much as they did in the 2018 midterm elections.

What about Virginia?

All 40 seats of the Senate of Virginia and 100 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates were up for re-election, as were many local offices.

Virginia has traditionally been seen as a swing state, yet the Democrats stormed to victory, winning both chambers of the state’s legislature and delivering the party unified control of the state government for the first time since 1993.

The Democrats took over the state Senate with a 21–19 margin, and are poised to take a 54–45 advantage in the House of Delegates, with one independent likely to win a seat, reports the Daily Mail.

Republicans had controlled both houses of the State Assembly by two seats in each, despite not winning a statewide political office since 2009. Instead, the party had clung onto power by partaking in the redrawing of voter districts - known as gerrymandering - in order to surpress certain voter groups.

Indeed, in 2017, state Democrats won the aggregate vote by a nine-point margin but “failed to take control of the House of Delegates due to aggressive map-drawing by the Republicans”, Slate reports.

The following year, “three federal judges declared that 11 state districts were racially gerrymandered and needed to be redrawn” - a decision which led to their victory on Tuesday, the news site adds.

CNN says that the Democratic wave in Virginia will now “open the door for new gun control laws, an increased minimum wage and other progressive measures that Republicans had previously blocked”.

“Tuesday’s elections were further evidence that once-purple Virginia is trending more and more solidly blue,” says Vox, adding that the unusually high voter turnout is also “evidence that Democrats are fired up and organised even on the state level”.

The Daily Mail suggests that the result can be seen as a direct protest against Trump, who “was clearly on the minds of some Virginia voters casting ballots to decide which party controls the state house”.

In further bad news for the president, with the “‘trifecta’ of the House, Senate and governor’s office, Democrats will also control the redistricting process after the 2020 Census, drawing the new maps for congressional and state legislative districts”, CNN reports.

“Each trifecta represents a foothold that can be used to bolster the party’s ranks in Congress and to cement their status as the majority party in statehouses for another decade,” the broadcaster adds.

Some recent polls have suggested that Trump “still has a path to an electoral college victory and presidential re-election in 2020”, but it is now “highly doubtful that course will run through Virginia”, concludes the BBC.

And in Mississippi?

The Republicans did manage one notable victory on Tuesday.

In a closely fought race, Tate Reeves defeated the Mississippi’s Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood by about five percentage points, allowing the GOP to hold onto the seat after the previous GOP governor Phil Bryant reached his term limit.

In order to stand for the role of governor, Hood was forced to quit his role as Mississippi Attorney General. This left the position open for an election that was won by Republican candidate Lynn Fitch.

The victories mean that come January, when Reeves and Fitch are inaugurated, Mississippi Republicans will hold all eight statewide offices - a result trumpeted as a major victory in right-wing publications and by the president.

“Congratulations to @tatereeves on winning Governor of the Great State of Mississippi. Our big Rally on Friday night moved the numbers from a tie to a big WIN. Great reaction under pressure Tate!” Trump tweeted on Tuesday.

“Our big Kentucky Rally on Monday night had a massive impact on all of the races. The increase in Governors race was at least 15 points, and maybe 20! Will be in Louisiana for @EddieRispone on Wednesday night. Big Rally!”

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