By Dan Kovats, Executive Director, @ILDCCA

When the votes were counted, the out-of-sync election cycle results of Kentucky and Virginia added significant gains for Democrats last week. Though many analysts point out that trends aren’t as strong as 2018, there are lessons Democrats can learn from.

To the south of Illinois in the Bluegrass State, Democrat and Attorney General Andy Beshear shocked the nation by ousting Republican incumbent Matt Bevin. Beshear’s win appears to be by a slim one-half of a percentage point, but the swing against Bevin is more than 9 points from 2015 when the Republican first captured office.

Bevin is known as one of the more unpopular GOP governors in the nation, but he nests in a conservative stronghold that is also home to Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader of the US Senate. McConnell, who is up for re-election in 2020 may find unwanted election hurdles in his effort to continue to use his position and the Trump presidency to stack America’s judicial system with young, out-of-touch right-wing lifetime appointees.

Beshear, however, wasn’t simply a lucky afterthought of disgruntled Ketuckyians. He ran a campaign that highlighted what citizens want and need, most notably access to affordable healthcare. Republican candidates and officeholders just can’t seem to wean themselves off corporate scare tactics justifying working and middle-class bankruptcy due to illness. In Kentucky, Republican Bevin started massive cutbacks in Medicare, putting scores of citizens in healthcare and financial peril.

Democrats just need to make the constant attacks on healthcare real for voters. If the issue is personalized, voters of all persuasions respond. Beshear earned 16% of a Republican crossover vote and beat the Republican with 27% more independents.

Virginia is another success story for Democrats. For the first time in over a quarter of a century, the Capitol of Richmond will be controlled by Democrats. The Blue Wave coalition flipped two Republican seats in the state’s Senate and took six House seats away from the GOP. The result is a one-seat Democratic majority in the upper chamber and a 54-43 lead in the House of Delegates.

The Virginia story is much like that of many trends’ experts are watching solid gains for Democrats in suburbs and a dug-in, deeper red for rural areas. In the era of Trump, white, rural voters are getting tougher to break through to. But, the fiscally conservative strongholds of “traditional Republican” areas are rejecting the chaotic, undisciplined and schizophrenic Republican Party of today.

Unfortunately, for large swaths of Illinois, there may well be tough challenges to overcome. In rural communities, the GOP lean may be a bit stronger. However, election results and polling show that voters across the board are more determined than ever to get to the polls.

The divisive election contests continue to drive turnout. And, as we know, when turnout increases, the chances for Democrats to win increases as well. It’s why voter registration, voter contact and getting voters out to vote are critical for 2020. Illinois Democrats know how to motivate our supporters – we just need to be as aggressive as possible in this upcoming election.

All the evidence shows that larger communities are prone to supporting Democrats. For many Democratic County Parties, encourage your candidates to campaign hard, early on, in the larger communities. Boost name identification and, mid-campaign, spend some time gaining some votes in rural areas before they return to a final push in bigger towns.

We know that Republicans will either be on the defensive for Donald Trump or they’ll try to avoid talking about him. Silence is collusion. If the local GOP leaders are cautious about Trump, it’s a sign Democrats are making up ground.

Of course, most local campaigns aren’t about what is going on in Washington. Voters still want change at the statehouse and the courthouse. Democrats should work hard to attract independent voters, especially independent women.