© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Peter Range, the executive director of Ohio Right to Life, speaks to members of the Clark County Republican Party about the state’s upcoming referendum on abortion rights, in Springfield, Ohio, U.S., October 26, 2023. REUTERS/Joseph Ax/File Ph
By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) -Ohio voters on Tuesday approved a constitutional amendment guaranteeing abortion rights, Edison Research projected, extending an unbeaten streak for abortion access advocates since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to eliminate a nationwide right to end pregnancies.
The result in Ohio, a conservative-leaning state that supported Republican Donald Trump by 8 percentage points in the 2020 presidential election, is yet another sign that abortion remains a potent issue for Democrats ahead of the 2024 campaign for the White House.
In Virginia, Democrats appeared likely to hold their slim majority in the state Senate, enabling them to continue blocking Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s plan to pursue a 15-week abortion limit. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee said in a statement that the party had held the Senate, with votes still being tallied.
Meanwhile, Democratic Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear won a second four-year term on Tuesday, Edison Research projected, defying the conservative lean of a state that voted for Republican Donald Trump by more than 25 percentage points in 2020.
Beshear, one of only a handful of Democratic governors in Republican states, defeated state Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who would have been the state’s first Black chief executive.
Despite his party affiliation, Beshear has maintained high approval ratings in Kentucky, buoyed by his leadership through the coronavirus pandemic and natural disasters. He also ran on protecting abortion rights, though he is powerless to overturn the state’s near-total ban.
The contests were among several across the U.S. on Tuesday offering critical clues about where the electorate stands ahead of the 2024 presidential election. The votes came less than 10 weeks before the Iowa presidential nominating contest kicks off the 2024 White House campaign in earnest.
In a statement, Democratic President Joe Biden praised the Ohio result, saying, “Tonight, Americans once again voted to protect their fundamental freedoms – and democracy won.”
Ohio was the latest abortion battleground, nearly a year and a half after the Supreme Court decision.
Last year, abortion rights advocacy groups scored a series of victories by placing abortion-related referendums on the ballot, including in conservative states.
They have doubled down on that strategy. The outcome in Ohio will boost efforts already underway to put similar ballot measures before voters in several states for 2024, including swing states Arizona and Florida.
Anti-abortion forces campaigned against the Ohio amendment as too extreme, while abortion rights groups warned that rejecting it would pave the way for a stringent ban to take effect.
Tuesday’s vote renders moot a six-week limit the Republican-controlled legislature had previously approved. That law had been on hold pending a legal challenge.
In Virginia, all 40 seats in the Senate and 100 seats in the House of Delegates were on the ballot.
Democrats sought to make abortion the top issue. Youngkin had portrayed his proposed 15-week limit as a moderate compromise, a tactic that could serve as a blueprint for Republicans next year.
A Republican sweep would have boosted Youngkin’s rising national profile. Some Republicans wary of Trump have floated Youngkin as a potential late entry to the 2024 presidential race, though the governor has said he has no plans for a White House run.
Republicans focused on public safety, running advertisements claiming that Democrats would cut police funding and go easy on criminals. Some 40% of respondents in a September Reuters/Ipsos poll said Republicans have the best approach to addressing crime, compared to 32% who picked Democrats on the issue.
Biden added his weight to the race last week, issuing endorsements for 16 Democrats running in competitive races for the state House and seven in the Senate, while sending out a fundraising plea to supporters.
Elsewhere, Republican Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves was seeking another four-year term. His Democratic challenger, Brandon Presley, a former mayor and the second cousin of singer Elvis Presley, raised more funds than Reeves, but faces an uphill climb in a state that voted for Trump over Biden by more than 16 percentage points in 2020.
Both Reeves and Cameron in Kentucky were endorsed by Trump, the frontrunner for his party’s 2024 White House nomination despite a litany of legal entanglements.