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Here Are The Most Important Moments Of The 2023 Elections

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Like most political professionals and observers, I woke up Wednesday morning with a singular question on my lips: Did that just happen? Don’t get me wrong, despite the doom and gloom predicted by some, I knew that Tuesday’s election would have some bright points to talk about.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that the crowded field vying to replace Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was going to push that race into a runoff between Texas State Senator John Whitmire and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

It was pretty clear that, after winning a tough primary election in May, former state representative and City Councilmember Cherelle Parker was set to make history and become the first woman elected Mayor of Philadelphia. After all, it’s been 76 years since the “City of Brotherly Love” elected a Republican.

Charlotte’s Vi Lyles and Indianapolis Joe Hogsett easily won their re-elections, Democrats fended off Republicans to keep control of the New Jersey State Legislature and so on. But even in my dizziest Democrat daydreams, I would never have guessed the overwhelming rejection of MAGA policy and rhetoric that we saw particularly given the doomsday scenarios suggested in some recent polls.

It just goes to show that while polling reflects the feeling on K Street, elections show us the voting on Main Street. Here’s a quick snapshot of what I mean.

Here Are The Most Important Moments Of The 2023 Elections

Source: MEGAN JELINGER / Getty

As Goes Ohio

Now, I know that I’ve talked at length about the fight over reproductive justice in Ohio particularly after nearly two million Ohio voters pushed back a GOP power grab trying to prevent Ohioans from enshrining the right to reproductive freedom in the state constitution in August. But, even with that groundswell, passing Issue 1 in the Buckeye State was far from guaranteed.

After all, Ohio went convincingly for Trump in 2016 and 2020. Republicans control the Governor’s Office and both houses of their state legislature and overturning Roe v Wade is probably the GOP’s signature accomplishment of the past 20 years and a cornerstone of their campaign rhetoric. So to watch 2,186,965 Ohioans come out against that narrative and vote to protect a woman’s right to choose and say no politician gets to stand between a woman and her doctor was nothing short of amazing.

Then, like a cherry on top, they passed Issue 2 by 57% and became the 24th state to legalize adult-use marijuana!

Let’s be clear, any one of these victories would be huge, especially in a red state like Ohio. But, bypassing both, they have developed a model of grassroots action and activism that can be replicated across the nation. That’s not just huge. It’s earth-shattering.

Here Are The Most Important Moments Of The 2023 Elections

Source: The Washington Post / Getty

More Than Blue Grass

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear is that rarest of things: a Democratic Governor in a Republican State. As a result, his re-election was predicted to be a very tight contest if not an outright longshot.

Think about it. Kentucky is the home of Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul. Out of their six members in the House, only one is a Democrat and Republicans control both houses of the state legislature by wide margins.

Trump, who eagerly supported Beshear’s opponent state Attorney General Daniel Cameron, won Kentucky by 30 points in 2016 and 26 points in 2020 while President Biden has a lackluster 22 percent approval rating in the state. So it’s not surprising that, according to an Emerson College poll released last week, the race was tied at 47 going into Tuesday’s election.

But despite all the conventional wisdom against him, Beshear won…and won convincingly. In fact, while only 5,000 votes separated him and his 2019 opponent Gov. Matt Bevin, he beat Cameron by more than 67,000. That’s not just a win. It’s a mandate and it’s another repudiation of the MAGA agenda in a night that was full of them.

Oh, and Beshear is only 45 years old…so there’s that.

Here Are The Most Important Moments Of The 2023 Elections

Source: The Washington Post / Getty

A Win for Virginia

Finally, let’s talk about Virginia.

You see, when Governor Glenn Youngkin rode his dog whistle model to victory in 2021, political pundits across the nation started talking about a “red wave” on the horizon. Of course, his 2021 victory was based on a divide and confuse strategy where he claimed to focus on “kitchen table” issues and, in the same breath, railed about critical race theory as a dire threat to our children.

This year he tried the same trick by pushing a 15-week abortion ban as a kinder and gentler proposal because it included exceptions for rape and incest. This year, however, voters weren’t buying it, giving Democrats control of both houses of the state legislature and handing Youngkin one of the biggest defeats of the night.

It turns out that voters don’t like it when you attack reproductive freedom no matter how you try to dress it up.

At the end of the day, that was the story all across America. Sure, they all came with slightly different phrasing or regional dialect. In New York it was a little more personal with Yusef Salaam, the exonerated “Central Park Five” member whose execution Donald Trump had called for personally, winning the central Harlem seat on New York’s City Council. In Pennsylvania, it was issue-based with voters preserving their reproductive freedoms by electing Judge Dan McCaffery to the State Supreme Court. But whether it was national or local, activist-driven or established, it was the same statement over and over again…and it was beautiful.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, this has been the resounding chorus since President Biden won the 2020 election. The GOP predicts a nightmare scenario for Democrats, talking heads in the media amplify those hot-take predictions but, somehow, Democrats defy expectations on Election Day.

That’s what happened in 2022 when the Republican “Red Wave” turned into little more than a tide pool with Democrats holding the Senate and actually flipping Governorships in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maryland and Arizona. That’s what happened when Rep. Karen Bass defied expectations and beat back Rick Caruso’s $100 million campaign to become the first woman to serve as Mayor of Los Angeles. That’s what happened when we kept Trump-backed election deniers out of the Secretary of State Office in New Mexico, Minnesota, Michigan, Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts and Nevada. That’s what happened when we defeated the MAGA-led referendum to criminalize abortion in Montana when voters elected Judge Janet Protasiewicz giving Pro-Choice voices the majority on that Wisconsin Supreme Court for the first time in 15 years, when nearly 60% of voters in Kansas stood up to keep abortion legal and safe in that state in August 2022 and when the Michigan State Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer repeal an abortion ban that had stood for more than 90 years.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that Americans stand up for one another, that we fight for what’s right and that, when we do, we win.

Does this mean we beat back the MAGA movement once and for all? Not by a long shot. But it’s a big step in the right direction.

Antjuan Seawright (@antjuansea) is a Democratic political strategist, founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy LLC, a CBS News political contributor, and a senior visiting fellow at Third Way.


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