Last night, the Democrats’ retreat from Appalachia turned into a rout as Matt Bevin was elected governor of Kentucky. The state had elected a Democrat to the office four years ago with a large majority, and mainstream opinion this time was that Bevin (who unsuccessfully challenged Mitch McConnell from the right in a primary in 2014) had no chance. He won by 9 percentage points.
This was a real test in Republican strength, and two points show that strength to be quite real. The first we knew for months: GOP voters outnumbered Democrats in the primary for the first time ever. That’s not always dispositive, but it shows a core party strength of numbers that conveys at least some advantage.
Second, the success carried down the ballot to some of the fairly anonymous row offices. These are as good a test as any for a parties’ statewide base, since it involves choosing a candidate that you know little or nothing about for an office you might not have known even existed. All you have to go on is the person’s name and party. The Republicans took most of these, with the Democrats holding only those in which their candidates had famous names (both are the children of Democratic politicians).
Kentucky has been Republican in presidential politics for a while now, but after last night we can say that it is well and truly a red state.