Democrats take Virginia statehouse, claim victory in Kentucky governor race
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Democrats take Virginia statehouse, claim victory in Kentucky governor race

Andy Beshear holds narrow lead of 4,658 votes over Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who refuses to concede; Democrats flip Virginia for first time in over 2 decades

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, along with lieutenant governor candidate Jacqueline Coleman, acknowledge supporters at the Kentucky Democratic Party election night watch event, Nov. 5, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, along with lieutenant governor candidate Jacqueline Coleman, acknowledge supporters at the Kentucky Democratic Party election night watch event, Nov. 5, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

The hotly contested governor’s race in Kentucky was too close to call Tuesday night, with Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear holding a narrow lead – and declaring victory – over Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Beshear had a lead of 4,658 votes out of more than 1.4 million counted, or a margin of 0.3 percentage points.

The bitter rivals gave competing speeches in which Beshear claimed victory while Bevin refused to concede.

“My expectation is that he (Bevin) will honor the election that was held tonight,” Beshear said. “That he will help us make this transition. And I’ll tell you what, we will be ready for that first day in office, and I look forward to it.”

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, right, and his wife Glenna speak to supporters gathered at a republican party celebration event in Louisville, Kentucky, Nov. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Bevin called it a “close, close race” and said he wasn’t conceding “by any stretch.”

“We want the process to be followed, and there is a process,” he said.

Bevin hinted that there might be “irregularities” to look into but didn’t offer specifics.

There is no mandatory recount law in Kentucky. Bevin may request counties recanvass their results, which is not a recount, but rather a check of the vote count to ensure the results were added correctly. Bevin would need to seek and win a court’s approval for a recount.

The final hours of campaigning were overshadowed by the endorsement Bevin received from US President Donald Trump as the incumbent tried to overcome a tenacious challenger bearing a well-known last name. Beshear is the son of Kentucky’s last Democratic governor, Steve Beshear.

Trump’s election eve rally at Rupp Arena in Lexington was meant to give Bevin a last-minute boost.

US President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Lexington, Kentucky, Nov. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The political grudge match between Bevin and Beshear stretched into Tuesday night.

Beshear dominated in the state’s urban areas in Louisville and Lexington and won some traditionally Republican suburban counties in the state’s northernmost tip, just south of Cincinnati, to offset Bevin’s strength in rural areas.

Beshear maintained his focus throughout the race on “kitchen table” issues like health care and education to blunt Bevin’s efforts to hitch himself to Trump and nationalize the race. He exploited Bevin’s feud with teachers over pensions and education issues, which resonated with voters.

The result could reverberate far beyond Kentucky. The fierce contest was being watched closely for early signs of how the increasingly partisan impeachment furor in Washington might affect Trump and other Republican incumbents in 2020. Among those with an especially keen interest: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who’s on the ballot himself next year in Kentucky.

Virginia upset

Meanwhile Virginia Democrats continued their winning streak under Trump on Tuesday and took full control of the statehouse for the first time in more than two decades.

Suburban voters turned out in big numbers to back Democratic candidates, continuing a trend of once GOP-friendly suburbs turning blue. This is the third election in a row in which Democrats made significant gains since Trump was elected.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam speaks to supporters at a Democratic election party in Richmond, Virginia, Nov. 5, 2019 (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

“I’m here to officially declare today, November 5, 2019, that Virginia is officially blue,” Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam told a crowd of supporters in Richmond.

Of the four states with legislative elections this year, Virginia is the only one where control of the statehouse was up for grabs. Republicans had slim majorities in both the state House and Senate.

National groups, particularly those aligned with Democrats, pumped huge amounts of money into the contests as a way to test-drive expensive messaging and get-out-the-vote campaigns ahead of the 2020 cycle. Gun control and clean energy groups affiliated with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent several million dollars helping Democrats.

Virginia also drew several high-profile visits from 2020 presidential hopefuls, including former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as current Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump tried to rally Republicans via Twitter but stayed out of Virginia, a state he lost in 2016.

His election three years ago has been disastrous for Virginia Republicans, particularly in growing suburban areas. Democrats have won every statewide contest, picked up three additional congressional seats and now are set to control both the state house and the Executive Mansion for the first time since 1994.

A mobile billboard urges voters to cast ballots for Democrats outside Centreville High School in Clifton, Virginia, Nov. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Matthew Barakat)

Republicans were hoping an off-year election with no statewide candidates on the ballot would help defuse the anti-Trump energy that powered previous cycles. GOP lawmakers also were hopeful that the specter of a possible Trump impeachment would anger and motivate the Republican base.

Democrats have pledged that when they take power, they will pass an agenda that Republicans have blocked for years, including stricter gun laws, a higher minimum wage and ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, making Virginia the final state needed for possible passage of the gender equality measure.

Democrats were keenly focused on gun issues during the election, saying Republicans should be held accountable for failing to pass new restrictions after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach earlier this year.

Emergency vehicles fill the parking lot at the Princess Anne Middle School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, after a nearby shooting killed 12, May 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Vicki Cronis-Nohe)

Republicans accused Democrats of trying to use the tragedy for political gain while focusing heavily on past Democratic efforts to loosen restrictions for third-trimester abortion. The GOP also warned of higher taxes and energy prices if they lose the majority.

Tuesday’s election could help cement Democratic rule for the next decade, because the winners will decide who controls the next redistricting process. Lawmakers approved a proposed constitutional amendment this year that would create a new bipartisan commission empowered to draw legislative and congressional maps, but Democrats would have to sign off on it again next year before it could be presented to voters.

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