AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Democrats had a very good night last night in the handful of states holding big off-year elections. In Virginia, Democrats won total control of the legislature. In Kentucky, a state President Trump had won by 30 points, a Democrat declared victory with a slim lead in the governor's race. But the Republican incumbent is asking the state to re-examine the results.
So what does all of this mean for next year's big election? Well, to answer that question, we're joined now by NPR's senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Hey, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there, Ailsa.
CHANG: So I want to start with Kentucky. Republican Governor Matt Bevin had campaigned with President Trump at this huge rally on Monday night. But then on Tuesday, he ends up trailing Democrat Andy Beshear. What do you think? Is this, like, some warning sign for President Trump?
MONTANARO: To an extent, yes. I mean, Trump is certainly expected to do well in Kentucky again next year. He won it by 30 points in 2016. But, you know, there is a little bit of a warning here for Trump because he did go to the state, and he said that he doesn't want the media to say that Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world. He said, you can't let that happen to me, he told Kentuckians at a rally.
You know, look; it certainly wasn't the greatest defeat in the history of the world, but it was a bad night for Republicans. And particularly, I'm looking at the impeachment inquiry. You know, Republicans promised that the impeachment inquiry was going to backfire on Democrats, going to fire up rural Republicans. But that hasn't happened, and that didn't happen last night in Kentucky or Virginia.
CHANG: But what I'm wondering about is how what happened last night in Kentucky plays into what otherwise seems to be a really tribal time in politics right now. Like, you're either on the red team, or you're on the blue team. How does Kentucky fit into all of that?
MONTANARO: Well, look; Matt Bevin was a very unpopular governor, the most unpopular governor according to a Morning Consult approval poll. But what I think it really means is that governing still matters. You know, he picked a lot of fights. He governed ideologically. And whenever that's happened across the country - look at Kansas, for example, and Sam Brownback. He wound up losing. A Democrat wound up being put in there.
You can have somebody be a governor of a state who's from a different party as long as they govern like a technocrat, as long as they focus on the things that matter in people's lives. Right now, if you were to look at the top three most popular governors in the country, all of them are Republicans, and they're all in liberal states.
CHANG: Oh, interesting.
CHANG: I want to turn to Virginia now. Democrats now hold total control of the state government there - the governor's office, both chambers of the state legislature. But the state has been trending towards Democrats for a long time, right? So how significant were last night's results?
MONTANARO: Well, it's really interesting because I think now you can officially say that Virginia is a blue state, which is really remarkable considering a decade ago, we were saying that as goes Virginia, so goes the country. And what a shift that's been.
CHANG: Yeah. So what was the driving issue in last night's election?
MONTANARO: Well, I think the big thing here was guns. I mean, it was the top issue on everyone's mind, on voters' minds. And, you know, after mass shootings within the state and mass shootings nationwide, gun control groups really made a push here. And I think it shows that with a concerted effort and with money - gun control groups outspent the NRA by half a million dollars. That money was spent to knock on doors, get out the vote. And I think it shows that the gun politics in the country may be changing a bit. And if that is replicated in other states, you could see some political change.
CHANG: OK. Well, then looking ahead to 2020, what lessons can we take from last night's results you think?
MONTANARO: I mean, clearly there's still a warning for Republicans when it comes to the suburbs. The suburban voters are the ones who put Democrats over the top in 2018, and they continue in race after race to back Democrats, show up in big numbers. And Republicans can't dismiss that and say that every single one of these races in places where Democrats overperformed on the backs of suburban voters should be dismissed and not matter at all.
And I also think that Democratic moderates have done particularly well in this election. They did particularly well in 2018, and that should be something that Democratic presidential candidates look at for how they can win as a roadmap in 2020.
CHANG: Keep an eye on the moderates.
CHANG: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico.
MONTANARO: You're welcome.
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