Conservatives Have A Big Night In Local And State Elections

Voters elected Republicans and rejected progressive ballot initiatives, including anti-discrimination and marijuana legalization measures.

Conservatives triumphed in high-profile local and statewide elections on Tuesday, with voters delivering big victories to Republican candidates and rejecting progressive ballot measures.

In the Kentucky governor's race, tea party favorite Matt Bevin (R) defied expectations and defeated state Attorney General Jack Conway (D), becoming the second Republican governor in more than 40 years. Bevin, a businessman, previously challenged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in a 2014 primary, but was trounced. This year's race was expected to be close, but Bevin's margin of victory was nearly 9 points.

The GOP victory baffled many political observers in a state that, despite its conservative reputation nationally, often elects Democrats to local and state offices. Voters also selected Republican Mike Harmon for auditor, though Democrats eked out victories in two other statewide races: Andrew Beshear narrowly won the race to succeed Conway for attorney general, and incumbent Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who unsuccessfully challenged McConnell in 2014, was re-elected.

Bevin's victory jeopardizes the fate of hundreds of thousands of Kentucky residents who have gotten health insurance under President Barack Obama's landmark health care law. The current Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, became an unlikely champion of Obamacare, establishing Kynect, the state's successful health care exchange, and expanding Medicaid. But with Bevin pledging to repeal and replace Kynect, the 400,000 Kentucky residents who qualified for Medicaid through the recent expansion may lose their coverage, as well as about 100,000 who obtained insurance through the state exchange.

Virginia, which held elections for its state legislature on Tuesday, saw major GOP wins. The party retained control of the state Senate, despite the efforts of state Democratic leaders, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who fought tirelessly to turn some of the more competitive districts blue. With both of the state's legislative chambers controlled by Republicans, McAuliffe faces an uphill battle in passing progressive legislation, such as his recent push for gun control laws.

In another victory for conservatives, voters in Ohio failed to approve a ballot measure that would have legalized marijuana, though most pro-marijuana advocates did not openly lend their support because it would have restricted marijuana production to a few wealthy individuals.

On the local level, voters rejected several progressive ballot initiatives.

In Houston, voters overwhelmingly opposed Proposition 1, a non-discrimination initiative -- a huge loss for LGBT activists who campaigned for it. Many prominent Democrats, including Obama and Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, endorsed Prop. 1, also known as Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO.

HERO's opponents successfully thwarted the measure, in part through a fear-mongering ad campaign that claimed the measure, which would have protected against discrimination in public places, would have allowed male sexual predators to disguise themselves as women and enter women's restrooms.

Defying the growing national movement around raising the minimum wage, voters in Portland, Maine, struck down a measure that would have increased the city's minimum wage to $15 by 2017. Businesses argued that they were ill-equipped to implement it.

Gun rights advocates scored a win in Coos County, Oregon, whose voters authorized the sheriff to ignore federal and state gun laws, such as background checks, if he deems them unconstitutional. Constitutional law experts said the measure, called the Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance, is illegal.

One lesson for Democrats analyzing their losses: Many of the races suffered from low voter turnout and engagement, as off-year elections attract less attention. Traditionally, more Republicans turn out for midterm and off-year elections, giving them a built-in advantage.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the year that Matt Bevin lost to Mitch McConnell as 2010; he lost in 2014. It also stated incorrectly that Bevin is the first Republican governor in 40 years; Republican Ernie Fletcher was governor from 2003 to 2007.

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