Abortion Powers Democrats to Victory in Off-Year Elections Despite Biden’s Unpopularity

Voters across the country will head to the polls Tuesday to elect new governors, state legislators, mayors, a supreme court justice and county officials in the 2023 off-year elections.


Democrats won up and down the ballot in Tuesday’s off-year elections as campaigns centered on abortion access powered liberal candidates to victory across the country despite President Joe Biden’s unpopularity, which would typically sink candidates of his party in off-year races.

  • Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear handily won reelection by a 5-point margin over his Trump-backed challenger, Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Beshear significantly improved upon his narrow 5,000-vote victory in 2019, defeating Cameron by approximately 67,000 votes.  
  • Beshear carried 27 counties that Donald Trump won in 2020 in a state where an October poll found Biden has a dismal 22 percent approval rating. Beshear, one of the country’s most popular governors, successfully portrayed Cameron as an extremist on abortion. 
  • Ohio voters passed Issue 1, a measure that would protect abortion rights under the state constitution, by a 56.6 percent to 43.4 percent margin in a state Trump won twice. Issue 2, which would legalize recreational marijuana in the Buckeye State, was also approved. 
  • Democrats performed well in the New Jersey and Virginia legislative elections. New Jersey Democrats picked up seats and retained control of both houses of the legislature in Trenton. Virginia Democrats flipped the House of Delegates and kept control of the Senate despite the efforts of GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin. 
  • Democrat Dan McCaffrey outpaced Republican Carolyn Carluccio to snag the open seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. McCaffrey’s victory preserves Democrats’ 5-2 advantage ahead of the 2025 elections when control of the court will be at stake. 
  • In Philadelphia, Democrat Cherelle Parker easily saw off Republican David Oh to become the first woman elected mayor of the City of Brotherly Love.  
  • On the western side of the Keystone State, progressive Sara Innamorato was narrowly elected Allegheny County Executive by a 51 percent to 49 percent margin over Republican Joe Rockey, a massive underperformance for Innamorato in a county Biden easily won. 
  • The Houston mayoral election will head to a runoff between leading Democrats John Whitmire, a state senator, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. Whitmire led Lee 42.5 percent to 35.6 percent, but neither candidate won the majority needed to avoid a second round.

reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • The New York Times noted “The night’s results showed the durability of Democrats’ political momentum since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and ended the constitutional right to an abortion in 2022. It may also, at least temporarily, stem the latest round of Democratic fretting from a series of polls demonstrating Mr. Biden’s political weakness.” 
  • CNN had a similar takeaway: “Abortion rights are politically popular, no matter where or when they are on the ballot. And that, no matter how you slice it, is good news for Democrats as the parties plot their strategies ahead of the 2024 elections.” 
  • “So was the Democratic performance in this year’s election enough to calm the Democratic Party handwringing on Biden?” asked NBC NewsChuck Todd.  “Perhaps, but barely. There’s no doubt that abortion continues to be the issue that breaks the tie these days, and that’s benefitting Democrats, no matter how unenthusiastic they are about Biden. Maybe by the fall of 2024, Democrats can once again use the abortion issue to motivate Biden-skeptical voters to show up. But just because abortion is so salient doesn’t mean Democrats shouldn’t worry that they look as out of touch on Biden, and the question of his age, as Republicans do on abortion.”



  • Fox News covered the disappointing results for Virginia Republicans in more detail. The overturning of Roe v. Wade “forced Republicans to play plenty of defense in elections across the country,” especially in Virginia. Youngkin attempted to defuse the issue by advocating for a 15-week ban, but that was not enough to overcome the partisan lean of a state Biden carried in 2020. 
  • The New York Post highlighted one bright spot for Republicans: the GOP flipped a New York City Council seat in the Bronx for the first time in a half-century. Republican Kristy Marmorato defeated incumbent Democrat Marjorie Velazquez, while Republican Ari Kagan fell short in a highly-contested Brooklyn council race to incumbent councilman Justin Brannan.
  • The Wall Street Journal summed up the election results as “Voters will come to the polls to defend abortion rights.” Democrats are hoping to take what they learned and apply it in 2024 “to offset voter disenchantment with the economy and President Biden, who is running for re-election with weak job-approval ratings.”


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© Dominic Moore, 2023