(Reuters) -Democrats and abortion rights advocates notched a string of electoral victories on Tuesday, including in conservative Ohio and Kentucky, an early signal that reproductive rights remain a potent issue for Democrats ahead of the 2024 presidential race.
In Ohio, a state that voted for Republican Donald Trump by 8 percentage points in the 2020 presidential election, voters approved a constitutional amendment guaranteeing abortion rights, Edison Research projected.
The outcome extended an unbeaten streak for abortion access advocates since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn its 1972 Roe. v Wade ruling and eliminate a nationwide right to end pregnancies.
In Virginia, Democrats appeared poised to hold their slim majority in the state Senate, which would allow them to continue blocking Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s plan to pursue a ban on most abortions beyond 15 weeks after conception.
The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee said in a statement the party had held the Senate, with the House still too close to call.
And in Kentucky, Democratic Governor Andy Beshear won a second four-year term, Edison projected, defying the conservative lean of a state that voted for Trump by more than 25 percentage points in 2020.
The contests were among several across the U.S. offering critical clues about where the electorate stands less than 10 weeks before the Iowa presidential nominating contest kicks off the 2024 presidential campaign in earnest.
The results could help assuage concerns among some national Democrats who are worried about President Joe Biden’s unpopularity with voters.
In a statement, Biden praised the Ohio result, saying, “Tonight, Americans once again voted to protect their fundamental freedoms – and democracy won.”
Beshear defeated Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who would have been the state’s first Black chief executive.
Despite his party affiliation, Beshear has maintained high approval ratings, buoyed by his leadership through the coronavirus pandemic and natural disasters. He also ran on protecting abortion rights, though he is powerless to overturn the state’s near-total ban.
In his victory speech, Beshear called his win a “clear statement that anger politics should end right here and right now.”
Ohio was the latest abortion battleground, nearly a year and a half after the Supreme Court decision.
Last year, abortion rights advocacy groups scored a series of victories by placing abortion-related referendums on the ballot, including in conservative states.
They have doubled down on that strategy. The outcome in Ohio will boost efforts already underway to put similar ballot measures before voters in several states for 2024, including swing states Arizona and Florida.
Anti-abortion forces campaigned against the Ohio amendment as too extreme, while abortion rights groups warned that rejecting it would pave the way for a stringent ban to take effect.
Tuesday’s vote renders moot a six-week limit the Republican-controlled legislature had previously approved. That law had been on hold pending a legal challenge.
In Virginia, all 40 seats in the Senate and 100 seats in the House of Delegates were on the ballot.
Democrats sought to make abortion the top issue. Youngkin had portrayed his proposed 15-week limit as a moderate compromise, a tactic that could serve as a blueprint for Republicans next year.
The failure of Republicans to win a legislative majority was a rebuke for Youngkin, whose political action committee invested millions of dollars in the campaign. Some Republicans wary of Trump have floated Youngkin as a potential late entry to the 2024 presidential race, though the governor has said he has no plans for a White House run.
Biden added his weight to the race last week, issuing endorsements for 16 Democrats running in competitive races for the state House and seven in the Senate, while sending out a fundraising plea to supporters.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, early results showed Republican Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves leading his Democratic challenger, Brandon Presley, a former mayor and the second cousin of singer Elvis Presley.
Presley raised more funds than Reeves but faced an uphill climb in a state that voted for Trump over Biden by more than 16 percentage points in 2020.
The race was too close to call late on Tuesday, but Reeves was leading by more than 14 percentage points with about 60% of the estimated vote counted, according to Edison.
Both Reeves and Cameron in Kentucky were endorsed by Trump, the frontrunner for his party’s 2024 White House nomination despite a litany of legal entanglements.