Lessons and Little Known Victories from Democrats’ Banner Day

Andy Beshear Victory NightThe BLUE WAVE is back!

Yesterday was the biggest Election Day of 2019, and Democrats and progressives have a lot of reason to celebrate. It took a lot of voter mobilization from a lot of candidates and organizations, but the fruits of our labor are evident: when WE organize and THE PEOPLE vote, DEMOCRATS win.

The big headlines you probably know already:

Democrats won enough seats to secure a majority in both Virginia state houses, marking the first time in a quarter century that Democrats control the entirety of state government. And there was a huge upset in Kentucky, with Democrat Andy Beshear defeating the incumbent Republican Governor Matt Bevin, despite a last minute campaign rally from Donald Trump.

But there’s more to unravel, and we thought we’d take a deeper dive into the results, to highlight what these victories mean for people living their daily lives and to see what lessons we can glean for the blue wave in 2020. Fair warning, this is a long one.

Virginia is for Fairly Drawn Districts

Where Republicans dominate in legislative and congressional districts, gerrymandering is often to blame. That was true in Virginia too, until 2017, when the courts struck down Republican-drawn districts designed to diminish the influence of black voters. The new, more fairly drawn districts directly led to yesterday’s historic state house victories.

…And Universal Background Checks, Raising the Minimum Wage, and the Equal Rights Amendment

With complete (though narrow) Democratic control in Virginia, we’ll now have an opportunity to show the country what it looks like when we’re allowed to govern with our values. The NRA has long had a stranglehold on Virginia, a state that doesn’t even have universal background checks. Expect that to change. Additionally, raising the minimum wage up to $15 an hour is expected to be an early priority.

Virginia is even positioned to be the last state theoretically needed to pass the federal Equal Rights Amendment, a priority for the women’s rights movement for nearly a century. It’s up in the air what comes next, but if the ERA is ratified in Virginia, we could finally see equal rights for all regardless of gender in the U.S. Constitution. And if that effort is blocked by Republican court appointees or Republican lawmakers, that sounds like a 2020 campaign issue worth fighting for.

Blue Notes in the Bluegrass State

How did Republican Governor Matt Bevin lose in a state that favored Trump by 30 points in 2016? It’s the question that’s going to birth a thousand columns this week, but here’s what we know:

  • Huge turnout across the state – the highest by percentage for a governor’s race since 1995 – gave Andy Beshear the margin of victory. That kind of enthusiasm gives us hope for the blue wave in 2020.
  • The new Democratic coalition was on full display. Beshear ran up the margins in the cities and made huge gains in the suburbs. Indeed, some of the Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati shifted 20 points more Democratic from 2015.
  • On an optimistic note, eastern Kentucky rural counties in ancestrally Democratic coal country returned to their Democratic roots in the governor's race, suggesting an opening in 2020 in parts of rural America with a history of a strong labor movement. It’s yet more reason for blue wave activists to seek out partnerships with labor-backed voter outreach efforts.
  • Governor Bevin went to war with teachers, trying to gut their pensions while maligning their character, and he lost. Meanwhile, his Democratic opponent made a pledge to protect teacher pensions and to ensure that no teacher earns less than $40,000 a year. The DeVosification of education is a loser for Republicans across the country.
  • Governor Bevin also did all he could to slash Medicaid enrollment. Beshear, whose father as governor helped insure 400,000 Kentuckians through the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, fought back and made preserving Medicaid access a centerpiece of his campaign. And it worked.

One immediate result that is likely once Beshear takes office: the voting rights of at least 140,000 nonviolent felons could be restored.

Looking forward to 2020, the polls show there’s only one politician in Kentucky more unpopular than Matt Bevin. His name: Mitch McConnell.

Mississippi: Big Gains in a Suppression State

Voter suppression is as Mississippi as John Hurt, so it was always an uphill climb to win the Governor’s race there.

Nevertheless, the gains from four years ago are impressive. Democrats saw a 72% increase in gubernatorial votes while Republicans saw a 6% decrease, this despite African American turnout that was nowhere near what we saw in the 2017 Alabama Senate race. Realistically, Mississippi isn’t a swing state anytime soon, but the results give us hope for states like North Carolina and Georgia, and for defending Senator Doug Jones’s seat in Alabama.

Further Evidence of a Suburban Uprising in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania elections, Democrats won big in the Philadelphia suburbs. In Delaware County for example, the 5th largest county in Pennsylvania, Democrats won control of the entire County Council for the first time since before the Civil War! Like the Orange County blue wave in 2018, we’re seeing mounting evidence that we need to mobilize big in suburbs across the country that used to tilt Republican — especially suburban women.

Diversity Rules

Virginia elected its first Muslim American state legislator, and it also reelected a transgender legislator — the first time that’s ever happened in America. Montgomery, Alabama elected its first black Mayor. Credit where credit is due, Kentucky also elected its first black Attorney General, a Republican.

Closer to Flip the West’s turf, Tucson, Arizona just elected its first Latina (and first woman) Mayor and its first all-Democratic City Council.

It’s taken too long and it’s happening too slow, but despite Trump’s efforts to roll back the clock on civil rights, American leadership, beyond Trump’s White House at least, is slowly beginning to look like America.

Symbolic Victories

Sometimes a little schadenfreude goes a long way. Vice President Mike Pence’s hometown of Columbus, Indiana now has a Democratic majority on its city council for the first time in nearly four decades, and in Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s hometown of Holland, Michigan, a Mayor opposed to LGBTQ protections was defeated by a candidate who embraced them. That’s worth a celebratory sashay.

One Big Election Remains in 2019

The Louisiana gubernatorial runoff is Saturday, November 16th, and the Democratic incumbent faces a stiff challenge. If you have spare time between now and then, you may want to plug in and make some calls. It’s going to be a close race.

…and Then We Party

Our work depends on donations from generous supporters like you, and we have a special treat coming up. This Sunday in San Francisco, THE David Crosby is our featured guest at a fundraiser in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood. Buy your ticket today. You won’t want to miss it.

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Thanks for reading and thanks for caring. Stay on the blue wave and stay engaged.

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