By Gabriella Borter
(Reuters) -U.S. voters on Tuesday cast ballots to choose governors in Kentucky and Mississippi, decide legislative control in Virginia and New Jersey, and determine whether the Ohio state constitution should protect abortion rights.
Republicans and Democrats were watching results in key races for clues about the 2024 elections.
Democratic Governor Andy Beshear won reelection, Edison Research projected, defeating Republican state Attorney General Daniel Cameron in a state that voted for Republican Donald Trump by more than 25 percentage points in 2020.
One of the few Democratic governors in Republican-leaning states, Beshear had touted his record of bringing jobs to Kentucky, supporting public education, expanding healthcare access and setting strict policies to curb the spread of COVID-19 on the campaign trail. As governor, he has vetoed legislation banning abortion and gender-affirming care for transgender youth, although those vetoes were overridden by the Republican-dominated legislature.
Republican Governor Tate Reeves won his bid for reelection against Democrat Brandon Presley, a second cousin of singer Elvis Presley and a utility regulator for Northern Mississippi, Edison Research projected.
Reeves had consistently led the polls in the deeply conservative Southern state, which has not elected a Democrat as governor in 20 years. He accused Presley of being backed by out-of-state liberals and opposing bans on gender-affirming care for transgender youth like the one Reeves signed into law in February. Presley had said he did not support gender-affirming care for minors and ran on the promise of tax cuts and expanding Medicaid. Both candidates said they were anti-abortion.
All 40 seats in Virginia’s Senate and 100 seats in the House of Delegates were up for grabs. Democrats held control of the Senate and won control of the House, the Associated Press reported.
The Democrats’ sweep thwarts the possibility of a new 15-week abortion ban – supported by Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin – that Republicans had vowed to pass had they won control of the legislature. Virginia, a state that swings between Democratic and Republican control, is the only state in the U.S. South that has not enacted further limits on abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022.
NEW JERSEY LEGISLATURE
Republicans were fighting for control of either legislative chamber in solidly Democratic New Jersey, where all seats in the General Assembly and Senate are in play. Republicans have gained ground since 2021, when they flipped seven seats, and are campaigning on issues ranging from the economy to parental rights in K-12 education. The results were still coming in Tuesday night, with the late reception deadline for mail-in ballots likely to cause a delay.
OHIO ABORTION RIGHTS
Ohioans voted to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution, Edison Research projected, which will render moot a six-week abortion limit signed into law by Republican Governor Mike DeWine. The ban is currently on hold pending litigation at the conservative state Supreme Court.
The success of Ohio’s ballot measure initiative, which put the question of abortion rights to voters directly, adds to a string of ballot measure victories for abortion rights supporters since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. It also inspires hope among Democrats nationwide that the issue will continue to galvanize voters in 2024.
OHIO MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION
Ohio voters also approved a ballot measure legalizing marijuana for recreational use. The statute will legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for adults over 21, expanding on the currently legal medicinal use of cannabis.
Democrat Cherelle Parker was elected mayor of Philadelphia, beating Republican David Oh. A former city council member, she will succeed Democrat Jim Kenney after he reaches the limit of his term and become the first woman to serve as the city’s mayor.
In Houston, U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee and state Senator John Whitmire, both Democrats, advanced to a Dec. 9 run-off after no candidate in the crowded field won a majority of the vote. They will compete to succeed the term-limited Mayor Sylvester Turner, also a Democrat.
PENNSYLVANIA SUPREME COURT
Democratic candidate Daniel McCaffery won the open seat on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, according to the Associated Press, defeating Republican Carolyn Carluccio for the 10-year position. His victory widens the Democratic majority on the state’s highest court to 5-2. The race had been closely watched for the implications it may have on abortion rights and election laws in the state.
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Lincoln Feast.)