WASHINGTON – Democrats celebrated big election wins in two U.S. states seen as a test of President Donald Trump’s strength ahead of the 2020 elections, while Republicans held fast to a governorship in traditionally conservative Mississippi, results showed Wednesday.
In a sign of trouble for Trump, Democratic challenger Andy Beshear scored a narrow victory in deep-red Kentucky’s gubernatorial race over Republican incumbent Matt Bevin, who refused to concede.
Doubling the hurt, Democrats gained control of both chambers of the legislature in Virginia for the first time in 25 years, turning a formerly red state solid blue, according to projections by U.S. media, including the New York Times.
“We have called it for Attorney General Beshear to be the Kentucky governor-elect,” Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said on CNN.
The U.S. president tweeted that Bevin “picked up at least 15 points in last days, but perhaps not enough (Fake News will blame Trump!).”
Beshear, whose father was the last Democratic governor in the state, claimed victory, but Bevin did not throw in the towel.
“This is a close, close race. We are not conceding this race by any stretch,” the governor said.
Should Bevin’s loss be certified, it would be a shock defeat for a conservative in a southern state that Trump won by 30 percentage points in 2016.
In Mississippi, Republican Tate Reeves emerged as the winner of the state governor’s race by a comfortable margin against Jim Hood, an anti-abortion, pro-gun Democrat.
“Great going, Tate!” tweeted Trump, who had campaigned in both Mississippi and Kentucky in the closing days of the race but stayed away from Virginia where Republicans had distanced themselves from him.
Democrats will now hold all major statewide offices in Virginia and rule the state assembly, a comprehensive consolidation of power not seen there since the 1990s.
Democratic leadership swiftly portrayed the night as a massive boost for the party heading into next year’s monumental battle against the president.
“This historic victory should send a chill down the spines of Donald Trump and every Republican,” Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez said in a statement.
“Democrats are competing in every election and every state, running on our values, and channeling unprecedented energy into the voting booth — that’s how we won tonight, that’s how we’ll beat Trump.”
Tuesday’s elections were tests of enthusiasm ahead of 2020 for Trump, who is deeply unpopular nationwide and is the subject of an impeachment investigation.
Trump hailed the Mississippi results, claiming that his support was key.
“Our big Rally on Friday night moved the numbers from a tie to a big WIN. Great reaction under pressure Tate!” Trump said on Twitter.
With Washington swept up in the impeachment saga, results in Kentucky, Mississippi and Virginia were closely watched for how the crisis is playing out with voters.
The Kentucky result — boosted by strong Democratic turnout in suburban districts outside Lexington and other major cities — is all the more humiliating for Trump because he flew there Monday night to hold a large rally and implore his base to come out to the polls.
“If you lose, it sends a really bad message,” he said. “You can’t let that happen to me.”
Also on that night, he blasted Democrats for recently voting to bring the impeachment probe to a new, public phase.
“The Democrats’ outrageous conduct has created an angry majority that will vote the do-nothing Democrats the hell out of office,” Trump said.
Instead, the opposite happened. Bevin was in lockstep with Trump, as was Reeves in Mississippi.
But Bevin has become one of the most reviled governors in the nation as he implemented unpopular policies on health care access and teacher pay.
Virginia, meanwhile, has been steadily shifting blue over the past decade, and Democrats counted on Trump’s deep unpopularity, and the growing clout of suburban Virginia voters, to help them reclaim the legislature.
“We just saw in tonight’s elections — from Virginia to Kentucky — Americans are rejecting Trump’s divisive brand of politics, said Sen. Cory Booker, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.
“We need moral leadership that seeks to unite this country and work for a better future for all Americans.”