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Matthew Continetti

Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute

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GOP might be disappointed after key Virginia, Kentucky elections

Oct 05, 2023

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Incumbent Gov. Andy Beshear (D) and Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) are facing off in November in Kentucky’s gubernatorial election. This race will serve as a significant test to determine if a Democratic incumbent can secure victory in a deeply conservative state. Meanwhile, Virginia will hold elections for seats in both houses of the state’s General Assembly, potentially impacting contentious issues like abortion access.

Straight Arrow News contributor Matthew Continetti suggests the outcomes of these elections may provide valuable insights into voters’ sentiments regarding former President Donald Trump. Continetti argues these results could shape the political landscape leading up to the next presidential election.

In Virginia, popular Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin aims to win full control of the state legislature. He’s been careful to stress the economy and education in his appeals to voters, and he’s been helped by flawed Democratic candidates. The term-limited Youngkin could use a good election night as a springboard to a presidential or Senate race. But first, he must win.

In Kentucky, Republican State Attorney General Daniel Cameron hopes to unseat incumbent Democratic Governor Andy Beshear. Polling for this race has been infrequent and somewhat unreliable. Yet it shows Beshear leading Cameron outside the margin of error.

These warning signs explain why Donald Trump has picked several high-profile fights with pro-life leadership. Trump can see the Republicans have been underperforming since the Supreme Court decision on Roe. He’s triangulating between pro-life leaders and a public wary of outright bans on abortion.

Trump’s bigger problem is that he can’t triangulate from himself. Even if Trump convinces voters that he won’t ban abortion in a second term, he will have to deal with his persistent high negative ratings. And though he’s competitive with Biden in national polls, his gains among minority voters don’t necessarily translate into swing state victories. A good night for Republicans in Virginia and Kentucky would mean that the party can win in a pro-choice environment. But it will still have to deal with independent voters who are allergic to Donald Trump.

Something strange has been happening in American politics. The same public that disapproves of President Biden and says the nation is on the wrong track continues to vote for the party that Biden leads. The next test of democratic resilience will be this year’s elections in Virginia and Kentucky. The results will tell us a lot about the political landscape ahead of a presidential year. And Republicans might be disappointed. The unusual trend of voters distinguishing between Biden and down ballot Democrats has been going on for the past year. The GOP entered the 2022 midterm campaign with high hopes democratic margins in Congress were narrow. The out party tends to do well in midterm elections, and Joe Biden’s poll numbers were in the danger zone. Republican expectations grew as Biden struggled to cope with inflation, the economy, the migrant crisis, and crime. Analysts and commentators including me, predicted that a red wave would wash over Washington. We said that the 2022 result would look like GOP landslides in 1994 2010 and 2014. We were wrong. Republicans did carry the House of Representatives but by a disappointing margin, and Republicans lost a Senate seat dropping to a 49 to 51 minority. The red wave petered out. There were many waves in Florida and New York to be sure, but nothing that spread across the country. When you examine the results, you find that independent voters in the suburbs turned against GOP candidates who were seen as loyal to Donald Trump or extreme on abortion, or both. My colleague Phillip Wallach found that in competitive House districts, Trump endorsed candidates underperformed baseline expectations by five points. Trump endorsed Senate candidates such as Mettmann Oz and Pennsylvania, Herschel Walker in Georgia and Blake masters in Arizona last as well. Meanwhile, according to the Fox News, voter analysis, Democrats trounced Republicans among the super majority of voters, who said that the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v Wade was an important factor in their vote. Abortion has dogged the political right throughout the past year. The pro life cause has been dealt serious blows and swing states such as Michigan and Wisconsin and in red states, such as Kansas and Ohio. Chicago’s far left Mayor Brandon Johnson won his City’s Democratic Party primary by calling his opponent, former schools chief Paul vallas a secret pro life Republican. In a September memo, the Democratic legislative Campaign Committee, which handles state legislative races announced the Democratic candidates have been over performing in special state legislative elections by seven points. This pattern makes November’s contests in Virginia and Kentucky even more important if Democrats there continue to defy Joe Biden’s bad reputation. The GOP will be in serious trouble next year. In Virginia, popular Republican Governor Glenn Younkin aims to in full control of the state legislature. He’s been careful to stress the economy and education in his appeals to voters and he’s been helped by flawed Democratic candidates. The term limited Younkin could use a good election night as a springboard to a presidential or Senate race. But first he must win. In Kentucky Republican State Attorney General Daniel Cameron hopes to unseat incumbent Democratic governor andy beshear. Polling for this race has been infrequent and somewhat unreliable. Yet it shows Bashir leading Cameron outside the margin of error. These warning signs explain why Donald Trump has picked several high profile fights with pro life leadership. Trump can see the Republicans have been underperforming since the Supreme Court decision on roe he’s triangulating between pro life leaders and a public wary of outright bans on abortion. Trump’s bigger problem is that he can’t triangulate from himself. Even if Trump convinces voters that he won’t ban abortion in a second term, he will have to deal with his persistent high negative ratings. And though he’s competitive with Biden in national polls, his gains among minority voters don’t necessarily translate into swing state victories. A good night for Republicans in Virginia and Kentucky would mean that the party can win in a pro choice environment. But it will still have to deal with independent voters who are allergic to Donald Trump.

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