Another election, another bust for Republicans. It turns out that voters don’t care about inflation, open borders, rampant crime or censorship…they care about abortion.
Unhappily for Republicans, President Joe Biden was not on the Election 2023 ballot. The president’s epically low approval ratings did not sway voters in Virginia or Kentucky or New York. There was no referendum on Biden or his party. Instead, local issues and abortion drove outcomes.
In every election since the overturning of Roe v Wade by the Supreme Court last year, abortion has driven Democrat turnout and funding. It’s a double whammy, since young people who lean Democrat tend to be unreliable voters; if abortion policy is at play, they show up. Going into 2024, even as voters are irate about the state of the country, the GOP must find middle ground on this contentious issue or face even more defeats.
Election Day 2023 featured few key races; its significance lay more in what it might reveal about the mood of the electorate and next year’s presidential contest. Key takeaways are:
1. Voters demand access to abortion even in red states like Ohio. Anti-abortion candidates face tough odds and calls for a national ban on abortion will not win votes.
2. An endorsement from former President Trump does not guarantee success even in a state like Kentucky, which Trump won in 2020 by 26 points.
3. Democrats are out-raising and out-spending Republicans; that needs to change if the GOP wants to win in 2024.
Virginia voters handed Republicans a major disappointment, with Democrats retaking control of the House of Delegates and holding onto their majority in the state senate. The election was a blow not only to the GOP which threw enormous funding and effort into the state, but also to Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a popular centrist Republican who campaigned hard to take control of both houses of the legislature.
Youngkin, who is term limited to only four years, had been considered a possible last minute entry into the GOP primary battle to run for president next year. If his tireless efforts to turn Virginia’s state legislature red had succeeded, backers were lined up to promote his bid. Most likely, he will not jump into the race now dominated by former President Donald Trump.
As was the case elsewhere, Virginia’s Democrats ran on abortion. Celebrating their win, the state’s Democrat Caucus Chair proclaimed: “It’s official: there will be absolutely no abortion ban legislation sent to Glenn Youngkin’s desk for the duration of his term in office, period, as we have thwarted MAGA Republicans’ attempt to take total control of our government and our bodies.”
In Ohio, voters approved by a wide margin an amendment to the state’s constitution which would guarantee access to abortion up until fetal viability, and allow for the procedure beyond that point if the life or health of the woman is at risk.
The vote signaled, once again, that even in red states this is a popular issue and it is one that Republicans must navigate if they are to win in 2024.
Abortion rights have been on the ballot in one form or another in seven states since Roe v Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court last year. Each time, including in deep red Kansas, voters turned out to demand access to the procedure.
Though abortion was not on the ballot in Kentucky, it was one of the themes that dominated the contest for the governor’s mansion, one of this year’s few marquee races. Incumbent Democrat Andy Beshear easily beat Republican Daniel Cameron, the state’s attorney general, campaigning on his handling of the state’s economy and various natural disasters. Beshear also bashed his rival for supporting the state’s harsh abortion ban, which makes no exceptions for victims of rape or incest.
Beshear is a popular centrist governor, whose family is Kentucky political royalty; Beshear’s father was also governor of the state. Cameron would have been the state’s first black governor; he tried – unsuccessfully – to tie Beshear to President Joe Biden.
Beshear was a fund-raising machine, raking in $18.8 million through 115 campaign events, more than three times the amount raised by Cameron; in addition, the incumbent and his challenger attracted substantial outside money. All in, through late October, Beshear won the money race $35 million to $30 million.
Cameron won the endorsement of former President Trump during a tough primary battle in 2022. The former president reupped his support in recent weeks with a video ad. Trump remains popular in Kentucky; a recent hypothetical matchup between Trump and Biden gave The Donald a 29-point advantage. Neither Trump’s popularity in the state nor Biden’s low approval gave Cameron the boost he needed. The outcome will be celebrated by never-Trumpers as another defeat for the former president.
In one of the few bright spots for the GOP, the incumbent Republican governor of Mississippi Tate Reeves beat back a challenge from Democrat Brandon Presley, a cousin of the late great Elvis Presley. Outside money flooded into the state, with Democrats hoping to win the state’s governor’s mansion for the first time in 20 years. A poll taken two weeks before the election put Presley only one percentage point behind Reeves, but the GOP incumbent ended up winning easily.
In deep blue New York City, Republicans hoped to gain seats in the heavily Democratic City Council. That did not happen, despite widespread frustration over crime and an ever-growing illegal migrant influx. The Democratic machine is alive and well, even as the city’s fortunes look bleaker by the day.
In 2024, if Republicans want to oust Democrats and change the course of this great country, they will have to find a winning path forward on abortion. GOP candidates Donald Trump and Nikki Haley have softened their stance on the issue, declining to endorse a 15-week federal ban.
Every Republican should endorse state referendums on abortion. Let voters decide.
Then let’s get back to reversing other Democrat priorities, like out-of-control spending and unchecked illegal immigration, that should be the issues determining elections.