Most eyes were trained on Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky last night, where Democrats beat expectations. But some of their more surprising undercard victories were on the other side of the Ohio River.
In southern Indiana, Evansville voters made history by electing Democrat Stephanie Terry as the city’s first Black and woman mayor. It’s the first time since 2007 that voters in the state’s third-largest city picked a Democratic mayor.
Forty minutes north, the largest city in longtime bellwether Vigo County shifted back to Democrats, as 27-year-old Brandon Sakbun ousted Terre Haute’s longtime Republican mayor by 20 points.
And in the state’s biggest and most expensive race, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett fended off a barrage of ads attacking his public safety policies and a deep-pocketed Republican opponent who sunk $15 million of his own cash into the race. Still, his 20-point victory isn’t as resounding as his 45-point victory in 2019, pointing to some cracks in Democratic enthusiasm.
Voters in Manchester, New Hampshire rejected the outgoing mayor’s hand-picked successor, instead electing first-time candidate Republican Jay Ruais. His campaign was focused on local issues: downtown development and economic growth, avoiding the emphasis on cultural issues that hurt Republicans elsewhere.
On Long Island, there was more evidence of faltering Democratic support as Republican Ed Romaine flipped the Suffolk County Executive seat in the GOP-curious New York City suburbs. And Kristy Marmorato won a seat on the Bronx City Council, making her the first Republican to do so since 1983. Meanwhile in Harlem, one of the exonerated “Central Park Five” won a seat on the New York City Council. Democrat Yusef Salaam’s victory comes 20 years after he sued the city for wrongful conviction.
In South Jersey, Democrats had their revenge, defeating truck driver-turned-state senator Ed Durr who, in 2021, handed Democrats one of their most stinging losses when he beat New Jersey’s then-Senate President. New Jersey Republicans hoped to build on their 2021 gains and latched onto cultural issues and President Joe Biden’s unpopularity, but on Tuesday, Democrats managed to expand their majorities in the state legislature, tightening their grip on Trenton.
Off-year, down ballot races aren’t a crystal ball, but they do serve as a useful roadmap ahead of 2024. The question is what lessons can parties learn and can you really apply those lessons in a year?
In the next 12 months, Republicans are tasked with finding a post-Dobbs message on abortion. Meanwhile, Democrats are hoping to gain some credibility on public safety. What is clear is the real prize is in the suburbs: the swing voters who decide elections are the people in line with you at your suburban Target and Whole Foods.