Kentucky voters on Tuesday elected just the second Republican in four decades to hold the governor’s office, in a race that hinged largely on President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform legislation.
The result was a potentially troubling sign for Democrats ahead of next year’s presidential election and represented a big win for Republicans as they continue to consolidate political power across the South. Democrats also were thumped in Virginia, where they made a big push to win a majority in one chamber of the state Legislature.
The gubernatorial campaign in Kentucky was the highest profile race in Tuesday’s off-year elections. The only other gubernatorial contest was in Mississippi, where Republican Gov. Phil Bryant easily won re-election over two candidates who ran low-budget campaigns.
Elsewhere, Ohio voters rejected an initiative that sought to legalize the recreational and medicinal use of marijuana, and Houston voters defeated an ordinance that would have established nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people in the city.
In Kentucky, Republican businessman Matt Bevin had waged a campaign to scale back the state’s Medicaid expansion that was made possible under Obama’s federal health care overhaul. Some 400,000 lower-income people in Kentucky who gained health coverage under the Medicaid expansion could be affected.
The Republican also played up his support for Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
His Democratic opponent, two-term Attorney General Jack Conway, embraced Obama’s health care reforms, saying hundreds of thousands of Kentucky residents could lose access to taxpayer-funded insurance if Bevin won.
Around the country, several high-profile ballot initiatives tested voter preferences on school funding, marijuana, gay and lesbian rights and the sharing economy. Despite the relatively low number of races, the results could be an important bellwether of sentiment ahead of next year’s presidential elections.
In Virginia, a swing state, Democrats failed in an expensive bid to take control of the state Senate and empower Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in negotiations with Republicans who control the state House.
Mayors in some 300 cities were also on the ballot. In Philadelphia, former longtime Councilman Jim Kenney was elected mayor on a promise to fight poverty and push for universal pre-kindergarten education. In Salt Lake City, voters were choosing between the incumbent and a challenger who seeks to become the first gay person elected mayor of Utah’s capital.