On the eve of the Kentucky gubernatorial election, Donald Trump held a rally for Republican Governor Matt Bevin, telling the audience that if Bevin lost it would send “a really bad message to the rest of the country.” Now that message has been delivered. Bevin lost to Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear in a state that Trump carried by 30 points.
The news isn’t necessarily that a Democrat won Kentucky. It’s that Donald Trump couldn’t save the Republican incumbent. His political capital seems to be waning.
That wasn’t the only bad news for Republicans. In Virginia, Democrats captured both houses of the legislature just in time for redistricting. It will interesting to see if progressives push for a nonpartisan redistricting commission.
Turnout was part of the story. In both Virginia and Kentucky, it was huge. Both parties showed up in big numbers. If Trump has done anything good, he’s motivated the electorate. His rural supporters are coming out in droves to protect his legacy while Democrats’ younger voters have been voting in record numbers to show their opposition to his presidency.
The large turnout follows the trend from last year’s midterms. Assuming it continues, 2020 will have the largest turnout in recent history. Large turnout tends to help Democrats since their base of younger and minority voters historically has a spotty record on turnout even in presidential years. They showed up for Obama in 2008 but stayed home in 2016. Their participation will largely determine whether Trump wins re-election or not.
The other notable trend last night was the collapse of the suburbs for the GOP. In Virginia, Democrats completed their trend of winning suburban districts, leaving very few Republicans in Northern Virginia or Richmond. In Kentucky, suburban areas outside of Cincinnati that were reliably Republican until very recently delivered for Beshear. The GOP is quickly becoming a rural party.
The results last night certainly aren’t predictive of 2020. However, they show trends that favor Democrats. First, Democratic enthusiasm hasn’t waned. They came out in droves and they’ll likely come out when Trump is actually on the ballot. Second, Republicans are quickly becoming a rural party based in cultural conservativism. In the long run, that’s a losing proposition. Finally, Donald Trump’s popularity doesn’t necessarily translate to other candidates. In fact, his appearance in Kentucky may have motivated as many Democrats as Republicans. That’s a factor politicians like Thom Tillis will need to weigh as they run with Trump at the top of the ticket next year.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >