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Elections: Big wins for Democrats in Kentucky, Virginia

By Daniel Uria & Darryl Coote

Nov. 5 (UPI) -- Voters in several states signaled at least a moderate political shift on Tuesday in legislative and gubernatorial races that brought gains to the Democratic Party.

The results in a few key votes offer a glimpse of what may come in the 2020 elections, including the race for president.

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Kentucky

Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear declared victory Tuesday in a tight gubernatorial race over Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, beating him by a few thousand votes. Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan has called the race for Beshear.

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But with such a narrow gap, Bevin hadn't given up late Tuesday.

"We are not conceding this race by any stretch," he told supporters in downtown Louisville.

Beshear beat Bevin 49.2 percent to 48.8 percent, with John Hicks earning a possibly decisive 2 percent.

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"Kentuckians now have a champion in the governor's office who has spent his career fighting for children and families by protecting coverage for Kentuckians with a pre-existing condition and supporting a quality public education for every child," Democratic Governors Association Chairwoman Gina Raimondo said in a statement. "I look forward to serving alongside Gov. Beshear and to seeing all of the great things he will accomplish for Kentucky."

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Beshear said he hadn't spoken with Bevin, but said he expected the governor to honor the results and help with the transition. He thanked his wife and family for the victory, promising those who didn't vote for him that he will fight to earn their trust.

"As your next governor, I will listen more than I talk, I will work with anyone who has a good idea that we can deliver for Kentuckians," he said before a cheering crowd. "With all the partisan bickering and nastiness that we're seeing in politics, we have an opportunity to do better right here in Kentucky."

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There is no automatic recount under Kentucky law, but there could be a re-canvassing of the vote and state law could ultimately leave the race up to the Kentucky Supreme Court or state lawmakers.

Bevin, who took office in 2015, was endorsed by President Donald Trump, who won Kentucky by nearly 30 points in 2016. The president joined Bevin for a rally in Lexington on Monday.

The one-term governor won by just 10 points in 2015 after losing a U.S. Senate primary a year earlier to incumbent Mitch McConnell.

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Bevin's popularity has declined after he clashed with school teachers and labor leaders over a pension measure and attempted to implement more work requirements for Medicaid recipients.

Beshear, whose father was Kentucky governor between 2007 and 2015, has touted victories as attorney general in blocking Bevin's pension reform plan and cuts to state colleges and universities. He also countered Bevin's Medicaid proposal by promising to expand healthcare statewide.

Beshear's victory is forecast to give Democrats headway in a state where Republicans control a majority of the legislature.

Mississippi

In another close race, Republican Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves defeated Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Phil Bryant.

Reeves, who ran on a platform opposing Medicaid expansion while supporting increases in teachers' salaries, won with 52.3 percent of the vote to Hood's 46.5 percent.

Hood congratulated Reeves on his victory on Tuesday night.

"Looks like the next governor will be Tate Reeves," he said before his supporters. "I just called Tate and congratulated him on a good race. I'll be praying for him and his administration and I intend to work with them in the transition."

Trump, who rallied for Reeves last week, also congratulated the governor-elect while taking credit for helping to push his campaign over the finish line.

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"Our big Rally on Friday night moved the numbers from a tie to a big WIN," he said on Twitter. "Great reaction under pressure, Tate!"

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel called Reeves' victory "a huge win for the president and our party!"

"Reeves was down double-digits, but [Trump] came in big with his endorsement and rally, putting him over the top," she said via Twitter.

It was a close race, however, as Hood grew to become a popular option in the Republican-leaning state since being elected attorney general in 2003, positioning himself as a moderate Democrat who opposes abortion and supports expanding gun rights.

The Republican Party controls both state legislative chambers and Mississippi has not elected a Democratic governor since 1999.

Virginia

Democrats in Virginia took control of both houses in the state legislature Tuesday night, a historic victory that hasn't been seen in a generation. The party now controls the state government, as it also has the governor's office.

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The win allows them to influence redistricting ahead of the 2020 Census.

Republicans haven't won a statewide election since 2009, but have held the Senate since 2014 and the House since 1999.

Other key races

New York City voted to adopt a ballot initiative to use a ranked-choice voting system that allows voters to choose candidates in ranked order, with the candidate who earns the most first-place rankings winning the election. As of 9:35 p.m. Tuesday, 69 percent voted in favor of the measure, making New York City the largest of 18 cities, including San Francisco and Minneapolis, to try the new system.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed breezed her way to her first full term Tuesday, declaring her win less than 90 minutes after polls closed. Breed became mayor when she won a special election in 2018 to serve out the remainder of former Mayor Ed Lee's term, following his death. She faced public health worker Ellen Lee Zhou and small business owner Paul Ybarra Robertson.

In South Bend, Ind., Democrat James Mueller beat out Republican school teacher Sean Haas Tuesday night in the mayor's race. Mueller won with nearly 65 percent of the vote and will be taking over from his friend Pete Buttigieg, who is vacating the position to run for president.

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In Philadelphia, Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney sailed to a second term Tuesday after receiving more than 80 percent of the vote against Republican Billy Ciancaglini, who campaigned on ending the city's "sanctuary city" immigration status.

"I want Philadelphia to be a city of equity, where everyone has the same chance to succeed, no matter where neighborhood they grew up in," Kenney said in his victory speech.

Washington state was poised to strike down affirmative action policies related to government jobs and state universities, which has been banned in the state since 1998. With 76 percent of precincts reporting late Tuesday, 489,017 people, or 51.45 percent of the vote, cast their ballots against Referendum 88, a difference of nearly 28,000 votes compared to those in favor of the motion.

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