Conservative victories in key state-level races add to growing narratives of 2015 as the year of the outsider in politics, and the defeat of two high-profile ballot measures has delivered setbacks to a cultural left that has felt inevitable of late.
The biggest story is the Kentucky gubernatorial win of Matt Bevin, a tea party-supported newcomer who became the second Republican in four decades to win the top office in the Bluegrass State. Despite a plethora of polls that showed him trailing Democrat Jack Conway, the state attorney general, in the end Bevin trounced Conway 53% to 44%.
For the GOP, 2015 has already become the year of the political outsider
, and Bevin certainly falls into that broad category. But unlike the GOP presidential contenders
who are atop the polls, Bevin's victory is complete and can go up on the scoreboard.
Bevin did it his way and won big. A charismatic businessman who fiercely defends social conservatism and speaks his mind can win? Yep. The Republican establishment would be wise to take notice.
One story certain to be ignored by many in the national media is Bevin's running mate, Lt. Gov.-elect Jenean Hampton, who will be the first African-American to hold statewide office in Kentucky. This adds yet another data point to challenge the dominant media narrative of an old, white GOP -- one which at the national level (as Marco Rubio pointed out) happens to have three minorities out of the four contenders at the top of its race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Add into the mix that the GOP held onto the governorship of Mississippi and the state Senate in Virginia, and the past 24 hours have clearly been good for Team GOP.
The results of two local ballot measures are also getting national attention: LGBTQ rights in Houston and marijuana legalization in Ohio. Both efforts for the cultural left failed.
In Houston, the so-called "bathroom bill" was voted down after it largely turned into a debate about whether the law would allow men to use women's restrooms. Many Democrats reject this interpretation, believing that the law merely outlawed discrimination and had nothing to do with bathroom access, but a majority of Houstonians voted against it, and a recent decision by the Department of Education on the rights of transgender students shows how quickly this corner of the culture war will escalate.
Ohioans voted down legal marijuana by a 2-1 margin, which serves as a reality check to those on the coasts who believe the march to national weed legalization is well underway. Boulder is not Birmingham, and if the issue of marijuana legalization is going to move state by state, it will be a long transition to end prohibition.
What all of the 2015 election results mean for the national parties will be obvious only in retrospect, and all the cliches about 12 months being an eternity in politics currently apply.
But Republicans at the state level are in their most formidable position in decades, and the results that came in Tuesday night only added to their advantage. If, as many assume, the 2016 presidential election comes down to a few key states like Virginia, a low-turnout, largely ignored 2015 off-year election might have an important role to play.