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The nationwide trends Tuesday’s off-year election results reinforced

Tuesday's election outcomes represented successes and failures for both parties. In Kentucky, Democrat Andy Beshear beat Republican Gov. Matt Bevin by a very slim margin, while Mississippi elected a Republican governor. And Virginia voters put both houses of the state's legislature under Democratic control. Amna Nawaz reports and Judy Woodruff speaks with the University of Virginia’s Kyle Kondik.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The day's other major story: the elections of 2019. Democrats are mostly smiling over Tuesday's returns, including the Kentucky governor's race. But the Republican in that race is asking officials to check the math.

    Amna Nawaz begins our coverage.

  • Andy Beshear:

    I want to say thank you to our union families that helped make this election happen.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In Kentucky, last night Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear claimed victory in the race to be governor of the Bluegrass State. He finished about 5,300 votes, less than half of 1 percent, ahead of incumbent Republican Matt Bevin.

    The governor today asked that elections officials check all voting machines for possible errors.

  • Matt Bevin:

    We simply want to ensure that there is integrity in the process. We owe this to the people of Kentucky.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Bevin is a close ally of President Trump, who carried Kentucky by 28 points in 2016, and held a rally in the state on Monday night.

    Mr. Trump's campaign manager said in a statement that — quote — "The president just about dragged Governor Bevin across the finish line."

    Beshear, the son of former Governor Steve Beshear, plunged ahead today, taking up his action plan for education and other issues in Louisville.

  • Andy Beshear:

    We're going to start bring Kentucky together by changing the tone, no more us vs. them, no more this side or that side. This is about focusing on those core issues, public education, pensions, health care and jobs, that are good for every single Kentucky family.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Despite Bevin's apparent defeat, Kentucky Republicans swept the other statewide races, including David (sic) Cameron, who will be the state's first black attorney general.

    Elsewhere, Democrats in Virginia won majorities in the House of Delegates and Senate for the first time in 25 years. Ghazala Hashmi became the first Muslim elected to the Virginia Senate, after flipping her suburban Richmond district.

  • Ghazala Hashmi:

    This victory is not mine alone. It belongs to all of you who believed that we need to make progressive change here in Virginia.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Democrats said they will use their new power to pass gun control laws, especially universal background checks, and to approve the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

  • Tate Reeves:

    This victory belongs to you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Republicans did manage to hold the Mississippi governor's mansion. Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves beat Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood by six points in a state that President Trump carried by 17 points.

    The president congratulated the night's GOP winners in a series of tweets.

    Tonight, Mr. Trump is holding a rally for the Republican running for governor in Louisiana.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to take a closer look at yesterday's election results, I'm joined by Kyle Kondik. He is the managing editor of Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

    Kyle Kondik, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

  • Kyle Kondik:

    Thanks for having me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, these elections were across the country. We just highlighted three of them just then.

    But let's talk about what lessons we can maybe learn from these results. Where did each party do well and why?

  • Kyle Kondik:

    I think that the results were generally a confirmation of the trend we have been seeing in American politics since 2016 and even before that, in that you have got a lot of affluent, highly educated suburban areas that are moving towards the Democrats.

    And we saw that really in Virginia, in that a lot of the key districts that the Democrats flipped fit that sort of characteristic in places like Northern Virginia, Greater Richmond, Hampton Roads.

    On the other hand, Republican strength is still enduring or getting better in a lot of rural areas or small cities across the country. Now, Kentucky is an exception to that trend, in that Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, the Republican, really was very, very unpopular. He tried to nationalize that race, bring in the president. But he still wasn't able to get a lot of Trump voters to vote for him.

    But I think that's more of an aberration. Mississippi, I think, is maybe a better confirmation that here we have a Republican state, you had a pretty strong Democratic challenger, and yet the Republican still won relatively handily.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Maybe the answer to this next question is just a mirror image of what you just said, Kyle, but what — where did each party not do well, and why? And are these things they can change?

  • Kyle Kondik:

    Let me give you an example from another state that held elections on Tuesday night, and that was in Southern New Jersey.

    Jeff Van Drew, a U.S. House member, used to be a member of the state Senate in New Jersey, Van Drew was one of only two Democrats in the House not to back the impeachment inquiry last week. And we sort of got a sense as to the reason why, in that Republicans actually picked up the two state Assembly seats that cover sort of the general area where Van Drew is from and also the state Senate seat that Van Drew used to hold.

    And that's a — kind of a white working-class area, Southern New Jersey. That's the kind of place where Donald Trump really performed quite well in 2016. And we see a similar — similar kind of results, in that, even with Trump in the White House, those places may be sort of trending away from Democrats.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you mentioned the suburbs a minute ago. Philadelphia suburbs, Democrats did well. Is there something about the kind of suburbs where Democrats are getting stronger and where they aren't?

  • Kyle Kondik:

    I'll tell you what.

    If you look at — if you just look at census numbers, and you look at whether a place has higher-than-average four-year college attainment — nationally, the number is about 30 percent, but if a county has 35, 40 percent four-year college attainment, that's a place that's generally trending toward the Democrats.

    Now, various places are in various sort of stages of transition. But if you look at that number, it really tells the tale. And, likewise, if you look at a place that is overly white, doesn't have particularly high four-year college attainment, sort of classified as that white working-class area — Southern New Jersey, I think, is a good example of that — trending more toward the Republicans.

    And, look, there are there are lots of varieties of election results, lots of differences in the outcomes. But those big picture trends, that nationalization and this split in the white electorate amongst white voters — white voters who have a four-year degree and those who do not, it's becoming very prevalent.

    I mean, American elections, if you go back 40, 50 years, I think they used to be actually a little bit more interesting, in that you had a lot more regional variation in how the places voted. But a lot of that is falling off, and it's being replaced by kind of national political feelings.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And if you're — whether you're a Democrat or Republican, and you're looking closely at what happened yesterday, are you taking — and you're running for president — are you taking something away from what happened? Or are you careful about what you see?

  • Kyle Kondik:

    I think you should be careful. And I also think that people who are partisan should make sure they recognize where the other side is doing well, too. And Pennsylvania is an example, in that we mentioned that, in some of these local level races, the Democrats did as well as maybe they had ever done in some suburban Philadelphia places in terms of the county level government and those places.

    But at the same time, there are a lot of ancestrally Democratic places in Western Pennsylvania outside of Pittsburgh where Democrats used to be strong, and Democrats — and Republicans did pretty well in a lot of those county level races.

    And so there are shifts in these key states in places like Pennsylvania, which — a state that very well could effectively decide the presidential race. There are positives that both parties can point to.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about turnout? I hadn't thought about asking you this. But as I listened to you talk so much of what happens in an election is who turns out, can we tell anything from an off-year election like this that just doesn't get the kind of national attention?

  • Kyle Kondik:

    The general trend has been the turnout has been pretty good in the Trump era. The midterm turnout last year was about 50 percent, which is basically a modern record.

    And in Virginia, turnout was a lot higher than you would expect for an off-off-year election, no governor's race on the ballot. It's just the state legislative stuff and local races. So turnout was pretty good in Virginia. Turnout was really good in Kentucky. It was not so good in Mississippi, which actually might be a little bit of a warning sign for Democrats, in that African-American turnout wasn't particularly great.

    That's a state that is very polarized by race. Democrats really needed a dynamite African-American turnout for Democrat Jim Hood to get over the finish line. That did not really materialize for him in that state.

    But, broadly speaking, turnout has been pretty high in these elections since Trump got elected. And I think it's indicative of a very engaged electorate. And we could be looking at a record presidential turnout. Usually, you're looking at more like 60 percent. But maybe it's going to be more like 65 percent, a lot of people coming out of the woodwork.

    The general assumption is that that's good for Democrats, because the Democratic base is less reliable. However, there are lots of potential Trump voters out there that didn't show up in 2016 that maybe would show up in 2020, particularly in some of these key states.

    So don't just assume for sure that high turnout is good for Democrats everywhere.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Kyle Kondik, the University of Virginia, thank you very much.

  • Kyle Kondik:

    Thank you.

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