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Election 2019: Highlights from a Night of Progressive, Inclusive Victories

 

Yesterday, voters in states across the country went to the polls for local and statewide elections, where they again widely rejected xenophobia and elected diverse new leadership. Here are some of the state-by-state highlights from yesterday’s election:  

Kentucky 

Even as xenophobic fearmongering backfired in the last two cycles, Republican Governor and incumbent candidate Matt Bevin, along with his aligned superPACs, again made racism the centerpiece of their electoral stratgey. Bevin and Republican Governors Association-supported Putting Kentucky First PAC both went hard on anti-immigrant messaging. For example, in classic dog-whistle form, Putting Kentucky First ran an ad where a woman claimed that immigrants were a danger to her children. Bevin’s own ads similarly tired to scare voters away from his opponent Andy Beshear with images of people scaling fences and ominous warnings that “Beshear would allow illegal immigrants to swam our state.”

But Kentucky voters did not take the bait. Bevin lost the governor’s mansion in a state that Donald Trump carried by 30 points in 2016. And Bevin lost despite the now-questionable wisdom of the Trump bump. Trump made multiple visits to the state to support Bevin, including one the night before the election when a poll had Bevin up five points. Bevin still lost. This was partly due to voter enthusiasm, which was way up for an off-election year. Turnout surged in the state, exceeding 2015 numbers by close to 50%, with almost half a million more votes cast. 

Virginia

Last night’s elections also resulted in Democratic majorities in both Virginia state houses. Notably, this will be the first time the state House is in Democratic hands since 1999. But legislative races also saw anti-immigrant messaging, though the xenophobia was significantly less ubiquitous than in 2017 and 2018, when such messaging took center stage.

In all four of the Virginia state House races where we identified xenophobic messaging, Democrats went on to win the election. In House District 21, the blatant xenophobia of a mailer produced by the Republican Party of Virginia caught the attention of the local press, and Democrat Kelly Convirs-Fowler held on to her seat anyway. In House District 40, Republican incumbent Tim Hugo ran TV and Facebook ads attempting to secure votes by stirring fears about MS-13. Hugo lost his seat to Democrat Dan Helmer. Mailers using xenophobic messaging were also used in House District 28 against Joshua Cole and in House District 85 against Alex Askew; both Democrats went on to win their competitive races. 

Also of note, Democrat Ghazala Hashmi defeated incumbent Glen Sturdivant for Senate District 12. Ghazala Hashmi, a naturalized immigrant, became the first Muslim-American ever elected to Virginia’s State Senate, turning divisive attacks into a unifying electoral upset. In an April blog post on Medium, Hashmi described her terror as she watched the Trump administration roll out its racist immigration agenda ― and how that fueled her desire to run for office.

Arizona 

In a historic election in Tuscon, Arizona, Regina Romero became the first Latina and the first woman to hold the office of mayor. Romero will reportedly be the only Latina mayor across America’s 50 largest cities. Romero has championed an inclusive vision for the city, no matter the immigration status the people that call Tuscon home. Following her victory, Romero called for a continuing effort to push for that vision, citing the still-on-the-books (though mostly neutered) SB 1070. As she said, “we’ve got to demand in a unified front, with a unified voice, that Gov. Ducey and the state Legislature repeal SB 1070”.

Maine

Safiya Khalid and Angela Okafor, both immigrants, won City Council seats in Lewiston and Bangor Maine, respectively. Khalid arrived in the US as a refugee from Somalia over a decade ago, and won in spite of vicious racist troll campaigns attacking her from all parts of the country. After her victory, a triumphant Khalid told supporters that “community organizers beat Internet trolls.”

Angela Okafor, who was recently able to obtain U.S. citizenship after immigrating from Nigeria more than a decade ago, won her seat in Bangor with the second-highest total of all the City Council votes.