ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Elections have just taken place across the country. Off-year contests like the ones yesterday don't draw the same kind of attention as, say, a presidential race. Turnout is much lower. But we have plenty of consequential results today - Kentucky and Mississippi governors, ballot initiatives on marijuana in Ohio and transgender rights in Houston. And here to talk about it all is NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.
SIEGEL: Let's talk about lots of ballots in a number of different states. Sort it out for us. Who and what won and lost?
LIASSON: Conservatives and Republicans won. Democrats lost. In Kentucky, the pollsters got it all wrong. Matt Bevin, the Tea Party-backed, self-styled outsider businessman who had failed to defeat Senator Mitch McConnell in a Republican primary last year, easily won the governor's race even though not a single public poll showed him winning. And although Kentucky is a reliably red state in presidential elections, this is only the second time in 40 years that it's had a Republican governor.
SIEGEL: Obamacare - or a version of it, anyway - seemed to be running smoothly in Kentucky. And Mr. Bevin ran against it, and he won. What lesson do you draw from that?
LIASSON: Well, this is a good question about what's going to happen to Obamacare in Kentucky. It's unclear because Bevin campaigned against the ACA and the Medicaid expansion that happened under the current Democratic governor, Steve Beshear. But recently, Bevin has sounded different notes. He suggested maybe he'll work with the administration on a Medicaid waiver to come up with a Kentucky-formulated way to expand Medicaid the way other red states have done. He has said you don't, quote, "just bounce a person off Medicaid."
Now, as for the Obamacare exchange in Kentucky, it is state-run. It's called Kynect. Even if Bevin closes it as he has promised to do, the White House seems confident that everyone shopping for health care on the individual marketplace could still get it as they do in other states that opted not to set up state exchanges. They could just go to the federal exchange, healthcare.gov.
SIEGEL: OK. Let's talk about a couple of those ballot initiatives - setbacks for supporters of legal marijuana and for gay rights.
LIASSON: Yes. In Ohio, voters soundly rejected a measure to legalize recreational and medicinal marijuana, but the marijuana business in Ohio would've been controlled by just a few private companies, so opponents were able to run against that initiative as a marijuana monopoly. And that convinced even supporters of medical marijuana. In Houston, voters overturned an ordinance that would've banned discrimination for gays and transgender people. Two-hundred other cities have similar ordinances, but that ballot fight got framed as a fight over whether men dressed as women would be allowed in women's bathrooms. In San Francisco, there was another ballot initiative which voters defeated, and that would've curbed the use of Airbnb rentals.
SIEGEL: Voters went to the polls in Virginia, a swing state in the presidential election, at least. And Democrats had hoped to take back the state Senate there.
LIASSON: They didn't...
SIEGEL: Didn't - didn't do it.
LIASSON: ...Didn't do it. Democrats only needed one seat in the state Senate to get a majority. They didn't make it. That's going to make the Democratic governor there, Terry McAuliffe's, life more difficult because he has a Republican majority in both houses of the state legislature. Also, as you said, Virginia is a very important state for 2016. And McAuliffe, the Clinton's former top fundraiser, would like to turn it blue for Hillary Clinton, but Democrats fell short.
SIEGEL: Well, do these off-year elections tell us anything about what might happen next year? Is there some...
SIEGEL: ...central theme?
LIASSON: It's not a prediction, but it does tell you a couple of things. In the South, the last blue vestiges are being eliminated. It really is a solid South. It also tells you that conservatives turn out reliably in off-years. Democrats, despite all their promises that they're going to be better at this, are just not on the playing field yet. And what it means is that Democrats have to get their votes out, have to get that Obama coalition out in a presidential year because we know conservative voters will show up at the polls.
SIEGEL: Thanks Mara. That's NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson.
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