Democrats Dominate Another Election Cycle. That’s Good News For Biden…Right?

It was another huge night for Democrats—and democracy.

In deep-red Kentucky, voters overwhelmingly reelected Democratic Governor Andy Beshear over Daniel Cameron—the Donald Trump-backed challenger. In a blow to Republican rising star Glenn Youngkin, Virginia voters gave Democrats both chambers of the general assembly, preventing the conservative governor from getting the rubber stamp he’d sought and from enacting his proposed 15-week abortion ban. And speaking of abortion: Ohio became the seventh state since the fall of Roe to codify abortion protections into law Tuesday, as Buckeye voters approved a ballot measure to enshrine reproductive rights into the state constitution.

It wasn’t a clean sweep; scandal-plagued Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves held off Brandon Presley, the cousin of rock ‘n’ roll royalty who had mounted a formidable Democratic challenge in the conservative state. But if the GOP’s consolation in Tuesday’s off-year election is Hey, at least we’ve still got Mississippi!…well, that’s really not much consolation at all. “Across the country tonight,” as President Joe Biden wrote, “democracy won and MAGA lost.”

Beyond the immediate implications for the residents of Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia—who managed to maintain at least some check on state Republican power—the off-year election may also carry significant implications for next year’s presidential race. Though, the precise message voters sent Tuesday is something of a political Rorschach test.

To Biden, whose approval ratings are underwater amid concerns about his age, the strong performance is a sign that the scary polls recently are nothing for Democrats to get up in arms about—just the latest instance in which the president has been badly underestimated. “Voters vote,” he wrote Tuesday. “Polls don’t.”

But to Democrats concerned about surveys showing Biden trailing Trump in five of six swing states? The outperformance of expectations in this year’s race—and last year’s—simply underscores the president’s weakness as a candidate: Even as voters show approval of Democrats and their policies at the ballot box, they can’t quite muster enthusiasm for Biden himself. “Biden appears to be less popular than some of his party’s policies and some of its other candidates, raising the possibility that someone else would be better at keeping the Democratic coalition together next year,” as CNN’s Stephen Collinson put it Wednesday.

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