STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Conservative voters sent a message last night - they are unhappy with the direction of the country and will show up to vote and say so. In Ohio, they voted against legalizing marijuana. In Kentucky, a tea party favorite with no political experience is going to be the next governor. And in Houston, voters repealed a law that was intended to protect lesbian, gay and transgender people from discrimination. NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro's been following all of this. He's in our studios. Hi, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hi there, Steve.
INSKEEP: Is there a theme here?
MONTANARO: You know, as you noted, social conservatives really had a pretty good night. In particular, in Houston where they happen to have a lesbian mayor, there was this big fight around that law. And the message opponents used was clear and simple - no men in women's bathrooms. It was easy for people to understand. It ran on TV and radio and was on signs across the city. The wrinkle here is that the city is supposed to host the Super Bowl, and the head of the committee that brought the Super Bowl in said that he's a little concerned about how this'll be interpreted by the NFL. The state's lieutenant governor, who was very much against this law, said that if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell thinks that men belong in women's bathrooms, then they need a new NFL commissioner.
INSKEEP: OK, so they've done some messaging that was very effective. We should be clear, there were only elections in a few places last night, but Republicans did really well. They did really well in congressional elections one year ago. They've won a lot of governors races in recent years - legislative races. What does it mean, Domenico, that democrats seem to have so many advantages, but they've been losing almost every election except for the president?
MONTANARO: Yeah, there's no question about that, I think, though, you always have to be really careful about reading too much into these off-year elections. But we know this - conservatives, more so than democrats or liberals, say in the age of Obama, they're upset with the direction of the country, and they're going to show up at the polls. During midterm elections, young voters and minorities tend to show up in smaller numbers, and Republicans have taken back the House and Senate on the back of this disenchantment.
INSKEEP: So what does this mean, then, for the presidential election, which is already well underway?
MONTANARO: Well, we know this much - the Republican base is older and overwhelmingly white. It's projected to be the first election where the electorate is less than 70 percent white. President Obama has used demography to his advantage and turned out young voters and minorities in record numbers. But with this last election last night - 2010 and 2014 tell us that we've already seen in the last two elections - is that President Obama, when he's not on the ballot, the conservative coalition will show up and be there. The big question in this election is whether the Obama coalition holds, if it's a democratic coalition, or just an Obama coalition.
INSKEEP: Do Republicans have an advantage because they will hold so many other offices during this election time?
MONTANARO: I think people don't quite understand that if there's a Republican that will be president, just the broad sweep of conservatism throughout the country that exists from the presidency down to the House, Senate and state legislative races.
INSKEEP: OK, Domenico, thanks very much.
MONTANARO: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.