Since Donald Trump was elected in 2016, there has been a slew of special elections and three general elections — 2017, 2018, and 2019 — and all of them have gone terribly for Republicans. Tuesday’s general election was another mess for the GOP, signaling real weakness ahead of the election next year. The night also included significant victories for the left, which tee up some imminent battles over money in politics.
Keep reading our politics newsletter to follow these fights over corporate dominance, the Democratic establishment, and the GOP’s efforts to maintain power as we head into 2020.
The deeply unpopular Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin — who Trump rallied for, begging voters not to humiliate him by letting him lose — lost to Attorney General Andy Beshear, whose father, as a former governor, expanded Medicaid under the ACA. As governor, Bevin pushed for cuts to health care and also tried to strip teachers of their pensions. And people fought back.
If that loss wasn’t humiliating enough for Trump, remember Juli Briskman? She was the Virginia cyclist who famously gave Trump’s motorcade the bird in 2017 and lost her job for it. She’s now an elected official.
Hers was one of scores of wins in Virginia, as Democrats flipped the Senate and will now fully control the state government. Gov. Ralph Northam, who resisted calls to resign over a blackface controversy, now has a window to push through sweeping progressive change in the state. Not in spite of that scandal but precisely because of it, he’ll be under intense pressure to deliver on his pledge to focus the remainder of his term on “racial equity.” One of the first battles is likely to involve a progressive black lawmaker, Lashrecse Aird, who is looking to take over leadership of the House of Delegates from her more moderate colleague Eileen Filler-Corn. Northam will feel pressure to back Aird, even as his private sympathies may lie with Filler-Corn.
And the win in Virginia sets up a new confrontation with an adversary just as challenging as the state GOP: Dominion Energy, the privately owned utility company. “The raw power and influence of Dominion is hard to overstate,” Lee Fang writes. For years on end, “Dominion has been the largest or second largest corporate donor in state politics.”
In both Kentucky and Virginia, Republicans ran heavily on accusations that Democrats were literal baby killers (you may recall hearing some of the “infanticide” panic). It is notable that the anti-abortion messaging, despite how hard Republicans pounded on it, did not work for them. Last night, abortion was a losing issue for Republicans, writes Aída Chávez.
In Philadelphia, the Working Families Party went all in, backing two candidates who ran third-party bids — one of them, Kendra Brooks, took a seat that had been held by Republicans since the ’50s. Typically, WFP allies with Democrats, but this time the party ran on its own, aiming for two spots the city charter reserves for minority party council members. Brooks, with no help from the Dems, knocked out a Republican — shifting the balance of power left in the City Council. Here’s Akela Lacy on that race.
And in Scranton, Pennsylvania — Joe Biden’s birthplace — Paige Cognetti, an insurgent who refused to run as a Democrat, saying she didn’t trust the corrupt local party (a wise move in Scranton), beat the Democrat in the mayoral race. She also wins the title of best campaign slogan: “Paige Against the Machine.” In a special election in a district carried by Trump in Missouri in 2016, Democrat Trish Gunby carried the seat.
The Democratic win in the Kentucky governor’s race also has implications for Sen. Mitch McConnell, who faces reelection next year. One of the Democrats considering a run for Senate, sports radio host Matt Jones, said he was watching how the Republican Bevin fared before deciding whether a Democratic campaign for Senate stood a chance of winning. (And McConnell’s team is already teeing up to fight him, trying to get his show taken off the air.) Democrat Amy McGrath, who’s already in, raised more than $10 million last quarter, but has virtually no chance of winning. Charles Booker, a progressive Louisville state legislator, is also looking at the race. Booker told me to “Stay tuned!” when I asked if he was jumping in. Jones told The Intercept he’s still pondering.
It wasn’t all wins for progressives. Socialist Kshama Sawant, a member of Seattle’s City Council, is trailing big in a bid for reelection as Amazon and other corporate donors poured millions into local races in the state, though several of her colleagues survived, in a rebuke to big money. And ranked-choice voting may have scuttled the chances of Chesa Boudin, who came within 300 votes of becoming San Francisco district attorney, running as a progressive against Kamala Harris’s pick, Suzy Loftus. He came out on top among the first-choice vote but now trails after the RCV calculations.
Biden, meanwhile, spent Tuesday evening with a small group of ultra-wealthy donors, at a fundraiser hosted by a fracking developer and a health care industry executive. He used his time there to go after Elizabeth Warren for being “elitist.”
On Wednesday at another fundraiser, he renewed his attack. This time he was speaking at K Street powerhouse Sidley Austin, which represents not just Mastercard but also a whole host of health care companies, including AquaBounty Technologies, Intrexon, Leadiant Biosciences, Medela, Medical Information Working Group, Purdue Pharma, and Vifor Pharma, to name a few. Perhaps Biden thinks elitism means internalized hostility toward the elite?