Kentucky voters on Tuesday elected Republican businessman Matt Bevin to hold the governor’s office, in a race that hinged largely on US President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare 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 southern US.
Democrats were also 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 Governor Phil Bryant easily won re-election over two other candidates.
Elsewhere, Houston voters defeated a closely watched ordinance that would have established nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people in the city, and Ohio voters rejected an initiative that sought to legalize the recreational and medicinal use of marijuana.
In Kentucky, Bevin had waged a campaign to scale back the state’s Medicaid expansion that was made possible under Obama’s federal healthcare overhaul. Some 400,000 lower-income people in Kentucky who gained health coverage under the Medicaid expansion could be affected.
Bevin ran as an outsider, emphasizing his Christian faith along with 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 Kentucky Attorney-General Jack Conway, embraced Obama’s healthcare 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.
In Virginia, a swing state, Democrats failed in an expensive bid to take control of the state Senate and empower Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe in negotiations with Republicans who control the state House. With the losses in Kentucky and Virginia, it was a rough election day for Democrats.
In Houston, efforts to secure non-discrimination protections for gay and transgender people failed by a 2-1 margin.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott praised the voters who defeated the measure, saying they “showed values still matter.”
Democratic Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who is gay, blamed the rejection by voters on opponents’ “bathroom ordinance” campaign, which she called “fear mongering” and part of an effort to demonize the LGBT community.
In the race for Houston’s next mayor, veteran state Republican Legislator Sylvester Turner and Bill King, a former mayor of a Houston suburb, will meet in a Dec. 12 runoff. It was one of more than 300 mayoral races happening across the country.
In Philadelphia, former councilman Jim Kenney was elected mayor on a promise to fight poverty and push for universal pre-kindergarten education.
The governor’s race in Mississippi was overshadowed by a fight over a constitutional amendment that would allow people to sue the state to increase funding for public schools. Voters defeated the proposed amendment.
The Salt Lake City mayoral race featured a tight race between two-term incumbent Ralph Becker and former state lawmaker Jackie Biskupski.
San Francisco voters were deciding a citizen-backed initiative to restrict the operations of Airbnb.
In Washington state, voters overwhelmingly approved a measure to add state penalties for anyone who imports certain animal products for commercial purposes.
And Colorado voters decided to let the state keep US$66 million in tax revenue generated from the sale of recreational marijuana.
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