LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Democrats in Kentucky and Virginia moved aggressively on Wednesday to lay claim to political power and push robust policy agendas on health care, education and other issues even as some Election Day results remained unclear.
The party leaders in those states sounded fully emboldened, reflecting their belief that they could press policy priorities with little risk of alienating many political moderates as long as President Trump is in office. Many moderates voted for Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterms and on Tuesday, including in the suburbs of Philadelphia and those in Virginia, a reflection of their dislike for Mr. Trump and frustration with Republicans who support him.
Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia, a Democrat who saw his party take full control of the state legislature on Tuesday night, told his cabinet in an open meeting that “we have a unique opportunity in the next two years,” saying “the landscape has changed” and that he planned to push for a major new package of gun control policies, criminal justice reform, early childhood education, the decriminalization of marijuana and greater access to health services.
He particularly zeroed in on gun legislation, a divisive issue in once-red Virginia but a political priority for many Democratic lawmakers and voters, as well as outside gun control groups that spent millions of dollars on advocacy work and on Senate and House races in Virginia this year.
“I really think a large part of the results that we saw yesterday were Virginians saying they’ve had enough,” Mr. Northam said about gun violence and the lack of action on gun control in the state capitol. He noted that he called a special session of the General Assembly in July to consider eight gun measures, following a mass shooting in Virginia Beach that took 12 lives, but Republicans called it a stunt and quickly voted to adjourn.
“We had less than 90 minutes of dialogue, with no results,” Mr. Northam said.
In Kentucky, Andy Beshear, the Democrat who claimed victory in the governor’s race on Tuesday night, said he would push ahead with a transition to power even though his Republican opponent, Gov. Matt Bevin, had not conceded the race. Mr. Beshear holds a lead of 5,100 votes, or about 0.4 percent of ballots cast.
Mr. Beshear said he would soon start naming members to his cabinet and filling other roles in his administration, and that his priorities included repealing the state’s Medicaid waiver and increasing financing for public education and health care.
But with the lack of an official result in Kentucky looming over him, Mr. Beshear largely stuck to a conciliatory message of bridging political divides in Kentucky by sticking to the kinds of issues where there was a lot of common ground. He said that he would likely have Republicans and independents serving in his administration.
“Last night, the election ended,” Mr. Beshear told reporters, standing with members of a local teachers union in the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville. He noted a looming deadline to submit a state budget in January. “The politics part of this is over,” he added. “It’s time for governance.”
Mr. Beshear said that he had not spoken with Mr. Bevin, but that he had left messages for and spoken with other Republicans in the state, including those who won down-ticket races for statewide office.
Mr. Bevin, after tweeting prolifically over the course of Election Day from his governor’s account and his personal account, was largely silent on Wednesday. He sent out one tweet a little after 1 p.m. linking to a day-old news release from his office announcing the expansion of a forklift manufacturing plant.
Mr. Beshear declined to extrapolate any lessons for the broader Democratic Party based on his success in Kentucky. Indeed, he strained to avoid tying himself to national political issues and focused narrowly on the statewide issues that had been at the heart of Mr. Bevin’s unpopularity as governor, like public education, pensions for public employees and health care.
“I’m not worried about what national pundits or what national Democrats are saying,” Mr. Beshear said. “I’m worried about our families here in Kentucky and doing a good job for them.” He added, “I believe this race is about our families wanting someone that cares about them, that reflects their values and is focused on those issues that they are anxious about at the end of the day.”
Democratic Party leaders emerged from Election Day with the belief that they had built on the gains they made in the 2018 midterms. A year after Democrats claimed 40 House seats and a series of governorships thanks to a surge of support from suburbanites, the results in Virginia in particular make clear that their drift from the G.O.P. won’t be easily reversed.
Even more than any individual result Tuesday, it was this realization of a hardening political realignment among centrists that so alarmed Republicans and delighted Democrats.
Going into Election Day, Republicans in Virginia held slim majorities in both the Senate and the House of Delegates, severely limiting Mr. Northam’s power as governor. In June, he asked lawmakers to consider legislation to enact universal background checks on gun purchases, a ban on assault-style weapons, risk-protection orders commonly known as red-flag laws, limits on new gun purchases to one per month and other proposals. That agenda went nowhere in the Republican-controlled legislature.
After Tuesday’s elections, Virginia state government will be under Democratic control for the first time in a generation. Mr. Northam’s secretary of public safety and homeland security, Brian Moran, said at the cabinet meeting on Wednesday that it was “time for gun legislation,” adding, “it’s going to be a new day.”
The post Kentucky and Virginia Democrats Push New Agendas After Election appeared first on New York Times.