There was at least one clear loser in last night’s elections: my dream of reaching Inbox Zero.
My email (current unread count: 40,149!) is now flooded with hundreds more messages, all from overjoyed Democratic organizations, strategists and candidates eager to get their piece of the credit for the party’s strong showing in the Kentucky governor’s race, the Virginia legislative elections and local races in Pennsylvania.
Of course, it wasn’t all good news for Democrats: Republicans won the governor’s race in Mississippi and were poised to pick up seats in the New Jersey state legislature.
Reporters, strategists and politicians pour over the results of these kinds of off-year elections for clues about the national political climate, searching for early indications of the dynamics to come in next year’s presidential and congressional contests.
I see a couple of lessons coming out of last night’s races. Here’s some of what I’m watching:
The Cheesecake Factory revolt is real
The suburbs delivered control of the House to Democrats last year. And the suburban slide away from President Trump shows no signs of slowing.
Key suburban counties flipped blue last night in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Virginia, with the support of higher-income, more educated, mostly female voters who take issue with Mr. Trump’s pugilistic style.
In Kentucky, for example, the Cincinnati suburbs backed the Democratic candidate for governor, Andy Beshear. In Philadelphia’s suburbs, Democrats won all five seats on the Delaware County Council, a Republican stronghold for over a century, and also took control of the legislative body in Chester County.
In Virginia, the power of the Richmond and Washington suburbs was enough to flip both houses of the state legislature. It was the third election in a row in which Virginia Democrats made significant gains since Mr. Trump was elected.
Virginia is ground zero for the shift on guns
The state that’s home to the N.R.A. is poised to pass gun control legislation next year, a shift that reflects the changing political dynamics of the debate over guns.
Take the case of Tim Hugo, a Republican in the Virginia House of Delegates. Over the summer, he argued that voters in the state were not particularly interested in gun control. Last night, he lost his place as the last Republican representing a county in Northern Virginia.
Traditionally, the debate over gun control has energized Republicans far more than Democrats. The Virginia results are yet another sign that after a series of mass shootings this summer, the politics of the issue may be moving in Democrats’ favor.
No, Kentucky is not becoming a swing state
Democrats claimed a narrow victory in the Kentucky governor’s race. But they lost everywhere else in the state.
Their victory at the top of the ticket has more to do with the Republican incumbent, Matt Bevin, an unpopular governor who picked inflammatory battles with the news media, the state pension system and popular constituencies like teachers. (At one point, he even accused striking public-school teachers of aiding child sexual abuse.)
Despite losing the governor’s mansion, Republicans won the other five statewide contests on the ballot last night — a reminder that Kentucky remains a conservative state.
Trump’s power has limits
Mr. Trump went all in for Mr. Bevin, tying the governor’s re-election directly to his personal brand. “If you lose, they’re going to say Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world,” he said at a rally with Mr. Bevin on Monday night. “You can’t let that happen to me!”
Well, it happened. Mr. Bevin’s effort to nationalize his campaign by embracing the president wasn’t enough to overcome his personal toxicity — a sign that even Mr. Trump’s pull with his base has limits.
Back in Washington, Senate Republicans were watching the race closely for hints about their own political fates. The question now is whether Mr. Bevin’s loss — and Mr. Trump’s slightly diminished political capital — will have an impact on their thinking, as they work through an impeachment strategy and face the prospect of congressional elections next year.
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Why double standards are still the norm
Our colleague Maggie Astor has a look at a new report out tonight:
There is good news and bad news in a study that the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which supports women in politics, is releasing tonight.
The good news: Most Americans recognize that women face double standards when running for office.
The bad news: Many of them are still applying those double standards anyway.
The foundation gave us an advance copy of the report, which is based on 12 focus groups and a phone survey of 2,500 likely voters. You can read the full report here.
The researchers asked voters to evaluate hypothetical women running against white men, and examined the factors that made voters more or less likely to vote for the women. The study focused on governorships because, according to the foundation’s previous research, executive offices are hardest for women to attain: Voters have long been more comfortable electing women to legislatures than to offices where they can make unilateral decisions.
The study found continuing double standards. Voters didn’t demand the same qualities in male and female candidates, and the female candidates had to take different actions to prove themselves to voters. Research has consistently shown that men are assumed to be qualified and women are not, and that women suffer more if voters think they’re “unlikable.”
Even so, the study found little evidence for the idea that women are less “electable”: When the participants were asked whom they would vote for, all of the hypothetical women won or tied against a hypothetical straight white man from the opposing party.
In addition to examining the broad obstacles women face in political campaigns, the researchers looked closely at the intersections between gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. A straight white woman running for office challenges one big political norm, maleness. A black woman or a lesbian challenges multiple norms, and that means even more hurdles.
“While most participants maintain that race does not impact their vote,” the report said, “some, particularly white participants, question the hypothetical women candidates of color just for being who they are.” These participants, for example, expressed displeasure when black, Latina and Asian-American candidates mentioned their race or ethnicity.
“It’s negative that they are introducing themselves as a particular ethnicity — I think it perpetuates the problem,” a white man in one of the focus groups said.
“Don’t run on the fact that you are an African-American,” a white woman said.
Female candidates face twin challenges: proving that they are qualified and proving that they are “likable,” an expectation applied disproportionately to women. The study — done in collaboration with groups that support black, Latina, Asian-American and gay women running for office — found that candidates from different demographics had to use different strategies to prove those qualities.
For instance, being “a business owner who created jobs and balanced budgets” made Asian-American women seem likable to most voters, but it didn’t help Latinas as much. Working across the aisle was a key likability trait for Latina and lesbian candidates from both parties, but it wasn’t as much of a benefit for straight, white Republicans.
“As I kept reading it said where to sent the ballot to — it says ‘International Space Station, low Earth orbit.’ I said, ‘What?’”
Astronaut Drew Morgan cast his ballot from space. And you can’t even walk a block to your polling place? Come on!
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