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So … About Last Night

I’ve seen enough Election Nights to keep away from complete exuberance. Even as the Democrats flipped the General Assembly in 2019, I noticed they left seats on the table [1]. When Democrats delighted in their surprise strength in 2022, I noticed that Hispanics were not part of that story [2].

For Election 2023, the sunlight on the Democrats was widespread enough to make finding the glare difficult – but not impossible.

In Pittsburgh, voters kept the County Executive position in Democratic hands and helped elect a liberal State Supreme Court Justice. However, the left-wing nominee for District Attorney was defeated by the incumbent – who lost the Democratic primary and kept his job as the Republican nominee (KDKA [3]).

Zappala has been Allegheny County’s district attorney since 1998 as a Democrat; his loss to Dugan in the primary led him to accept the Republican nomination after receiving nearly 9,700 write-in votes on the GOP ballot.

Roughly 30 percent of Democrats crossed party lines to vote for Zappala, who ran as the law-and-order candidate.

I’m sure incumbency helped, but this is a perfect example of one simple fact: Democrats have very good responses to the Republican message on crime (namely, change the subject), but they’re still coming up short on an answer to it.

On the flip side, the-police-are-always-right crowd had troubles of its own. Daniel Cameron, the Kentucky Attorney General who shielded everyone working in the criminal justice from any accountability in the Breonna Taylor manslaughter, lost his bid for governor to Andy Beshear. In fact, Governor Beshear won his second term by a larger margin than his first – in a state Trump won by 26 points, no less.

Still, Democrats have a weak spot on public order, which means their urban margins may continue the retreat from 2020 – and Biden will need even bigger gains in the suburbs to counter them. Luckily for him, local school board races around the country suggest he might just get that.

Meanwhile, Youngkin’s failure to bring Virginia Republicans with him suggest that even his attempt to soft-pedal an abortion ban fell flat. Post-Dobbs pro-choice voters continue to make it abundantly clear that they trust practically no Republican at all on this issue anymore. This is a very troubling sign for Donald Trump, who is cautiously (for him) trying to triangulate on that issue himself. That said, while the GOP’s support for abortion bans is clearly a political loser, it makes up for that by being spectacularly ineffective [4].

Despite this, look for Republicans to decide that the headaches and visible bruises can only be healed by finding a bigger hammer with which to hit themselves.

Here comes 2024.