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Democrats scored in Wednesday's elections


Yesterday's elections in states like Ohio, Virginia and Kentucky have Democrats feeling good. More than a year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion rights continue to be a key issue. Increasingly conservative Ohio voted to protect them in the state's constitution, and abortion was a key theme in Virginia's legislative races as well. For more on what we can make of the results and what they may mean for next year's presidential election, NPR senior political editor Domenico Montanaro is on the line. And, Domenico, you're joining us from a place pretty relevant to that presidential election. Where are you?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there, Scott. Yeah, I'm in Miami. I'm literally looking at the debate site right now. And we will be there for the Republican presidential debate tonight, where the stage has been winnowed down to just five candidates, so it's going to be really interesting.

DETROW: So we'll get back to that election in a moment, but let's start with what happened last night. Big picture, what do these results tell us about the electoral landscape right now?

MONTANARO: I mean, the big takeaway continues to be about abortion rights. I mean, it's still a losing issue for conservatives, a motivating one for Democrats. I mean, just look at Ohio, which has really become a red state favoring Republicans in presidential elections. But a majority voted to enshrine abortion rights into their state constitution - remarkable, really. And you wonder when Republicans will realize that this is just a losing issue for them.

DETROW: And Virginia's legislature was on the ballot last night. And I know from watching playoff baseball - every single commercial break, there were ads about abortion rights. That issue just dominated that race as well.

MONTANARO: Oh, my goodness. It was abortion rights versus crime, and clearly abortion rights won out. You know, Democrats retained the Senate, retook the House, controlling the entire legislature really, again, on the back of abortion as an issue. Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin really campaigned across the state on a 15-week abortion ban. Now it's not going to happen, and he spent a lot of political capital on this. His political career really took a huge blow last night. He's not only left as a lame duck for his final couple of years in office, but his chances for president in 2028 really took a nosedive. I mean, he championed a policy Republican activists don't even want, and clearly swing voters rejected it, too. Like I said, crime was also a big issue here. It's a thing Republicans continue to think that they can use to help blunt the effects of abortion as an issue in the suburbs and with women and, boy, were they wrong.

I mean, looking at the data, Democrats really used abortion as an issue across the country, up and down the ballot. More than 350,000 airings on TV and online focusing on this - three-quarters of those ads run by Democrats, more than $90 million spent according to the ad tracking firm AdImpact and analyzed by NPR. Conversely, you know, $60 million was spent on ads related to crime, mostly by Republicans - just didn't have the same salience. Aside from a place like Long Island, where Republicans continued last night to make gains, they're really going to have to reexamine how to win in the suburbs and swing areas, and that includes with these school board fights, you know, and book bans. You know, there's a backlash to that in Bucks County, Pa., where Democrats organized and retook a local school board there, too.

DETROW: Key governors' races to tell us about quickly?

MONTANARO: Yeah, big win in Kentucky for Democrat Andy Beshear. His win, you know, gives him reelection - remarkable what he's been able to do there politically in a state that voted for Trump by almost 26 points. If Youngkin's stock has plummeted for 2028, Beshear's is on the rise.

DETROW: And you got about 20 seconds left - confident you, if anyone, can do it. What, if anything, does this mean for the election a year from now?

MONTANARO: I'd put as much stock in these results as I would swing state polls a year out from an election. Fact is, you know, these are lower turnout elections than presidentials, and that changes the electorate. You know, President Biden certainly has a lot of issues that he has with his brand, but so does President Trump. We're going to see if that's even the rematch we wind up seeing.

DETROW: That's Domenico Montanaro joining us from Miami. Thank you.

MONTANARO: Hey, you're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.