Three Southern states that went overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in 2016 hold gubernatorial contests this month, the highlights of this off-year election. One state, Kentucky, is held by a Republican seeking re-election. Another, Louisiana, is held by a Democrat seeking a second term. In the third state, Mississippi, the incumbent GOP governor is term limited. Here’s what’s at stake:
KENTUCKY GOV: GOP incumbent Matt Bevin has the reputation as being one of the most unpopular governors in the country. First elected in 2015 as only the second Kentucky Republican in the last half century — the other one, Ernie Fletcher, was defeated after one term in 2007 — Bevin has picked fights with public school teachers as well as with his own fellow Republicans. He has made what some see as draconian cuts in social services. In last May’s primary, he could manage just 52% en route to winning renomination. But at the same time, the economy is solid, unemployment is low and new jobs have been created. Also in his favor is his strong opposition to abortion in this very pro-life state. And Trump, who carried the commonwealth by nearly 30 percentage points in 2016, remains highly popular and is working hard to get Bevin re-elected. On the Democratic side, state Attorney General Andy Beshear has the name but maybe not the stature; while his father, Steve Beshear, is a very popular former two-term governor, Andy is a less-than-dynamic campaigner in a state where the Democratic label is not what it used to be. Ultimately the race could be determined less by politics and more by personality. If it’s the latter — if it’s about the governor himself — Bevin could be in trouble. If it’s about politics, party and Trump (Kentucky, shall we say, is not a hotbed for impeachment), Bevin will win a second term.
MISSISSIPPI GOV: Starting with Haley Barbour’s eight years in office that began in 2004, and continuing through current Gov. Phil Bryant’s soon-to-end eight years, Mississippi has become a reliably Republican state. But this year’s race to succeed Bryant is thought to be close. The GOP nominee is Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, a strong conservative but a bit of a clunky campaigner who was forced into a primary runoff before he could claim the nod, even though he had nearly the entire party establishment behind him. The Democrat is also a statewide elected official, Attorney General Jim Hood, who sounds and speaks “Mississippi” and whose views on social issues — anti-abortion, pro-gun — might make you forget what party he is in. Hood has been groomed for higher office for years; first elected AG in 2003, he has won four times. The race here is similar to that in Kentucky. If it’s about Trump or the national party, the Republican wins. The difference is that Hood, unlike Kentucky’s Beshear, is anything but a liberal. He cannot be caricatured as a Nancy Pelosi clone. That hasn’t kept the GOP from trying.
LOUISIANA GOV (runoff Nov. 16): Democrat John Bel Edwards had the good fortune to run against a Republican four years ago who was unable to escape a sex scandal (a sex scandal in Louisiana? Imagine!), and it propelled him to victory. His strong anti-abortion credentials — he signed one of the nation’s most restrictive laws earlier this year — have helped him in his bid for re-election. In last month’s so-called “jungle primary” — where every candidate, regardless of party, runs on the same ballot — Edwards led with 46.6%. But his total was less than the combined 51% of his two closest Republicans, millionaire businessman Eddie Rispone (27.4%) and Congressman Ralph Abraham (23.6%). And because no one received a majority of the vote, Edwards and Rispone — a strong Trump supporter — advance to the 11/16 runoff. Edwards gets credit for a much improved economy, but Rispone responds by reminding voters that the governor raised taxes.
VIRGINIA STATE LEGISLATURE: This is the only Southern state Trump lost in 2016, when Hillary Clinton chose Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate. If anything, the president’s numbers are even lower today. And that is part of the backdrop to this expensive effort, by both parties, to win control of both the state House of Delegates and Senate. There is a reason why the Ds and the Rs are pouring in so much money here: GOP control of both chambers is airtight. It’s 51-49 in the House of Delegates, 21-19 in the Senate. Many Democrats are running on the issue of guns in a state that has had its share of gun-related horrors in recent years, as well as health care and abortion rights. Republicans are hoping voters won’t forget the scandals, shadows and controversies the state’s top three Democrats find themselves under: Gov. Ralph Northam (first apologizing and then not sure if it were he dressed in blackface in a 1984 photo); Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (accused of rape by one woman and sexual assault by another, denying both); and Atty. Gen. Mark Herring (who admitted wearing blackface in a 1980 photo).
NEW JERSEY ASSEMBLY: Democrats have a 54-26 supermajority in the state assembly and that is not likely to change. There is, however, a special state senate race in southern Jersey up on Tuesday that has attracted national attention. It’s for the seat formerly held by now-Congressman Jeff Van Drew, who made headlines of his own when he became one of only two Democrats in the House to vote against the Trump impeachment inquiry. The Democrat who was appointed to fill Van Drew’s seat, Iraq war veteran Bob Andrzejczak, has said he would not rule out voting for Trump next year, and that two of his party’s presidential frontrunners, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, were unacceptable to him. His Republican opponent is Mike Testa Jr., an attorney and a leading figure in Trump’s re-election effort in the state, which was carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 14 percentage points. The entire senate, which is not up this year, is controlled by the Democrats 26-14.
SPECIAL CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS (dates TBD): There are also four vacant House seats that will be decided in special elections next year. Sean Duffy (R-WI 07), who announced his resignation in August, effective 9/23, because of health concerns regarding his new baby son; Chris Collins (R-NY 27), who had been under indictment, quit right before pleading guilty to insider trading in October; Elijah Cummings (D-MD 07), who died on 10/17; and Katie Hill (D-CA 25), who announced her resignation late last month after an exposed extra-marital affair become entwined with accusations of “revenge porn.”
Impeach This. The Halloween-eve vote in the House to establish an impeachment inquiry was only the third time in modern history that such a vote took place.
Nixon, Feb. 6, 1974: The vote was 410-4. The four dissenters, all Republicans, were Ben Blackburn (GA), Earl Landgrebe (IN), Carlos Moorhead (CA) and Dave Treen (LA).
Clinton, Oct. 8, 1998: The vote was 258-176. Thirty-one Democrats voted for the resolution: Leonard Boswell (IA), Gary Condit (CA), Bud Cramer (AL), Pat Danner (MO), Bob Etheridge (NC), Lane Evans (IL), Virgil Goode (VA), Ralph Hall (TX), Lee Hamilton (IN), Chris John (LA), Ron Kind (WI), Dennis Kucinich (OH), Nick Lampson (TX), William Lipinski (IL), Jim Maloney (CT), Carolyn McCarthy (NY), Paul McHale (PA), Mike McIntyre (NC), David Minge (MN), Jim Moran (VA), Collin Peterson (MN), Owen Pickett (VA), Tim Roemer (IN), Norm Sisisky (VA), Ike Skelton (MO), John Spratt (SC), Charles Stenholm (TX), Ellen Tauscher (CA), Gene Taylor (MS), Jim Turner (TX) and Bob Weygand (RI). No Republican voted against the resolution.
Trump, Oct. 31, 2019: The vote was 232-196. No Republican voted yes, though one former Republican/now Independent, Justin Amash (MI), did. Two Democrats voted no: Collin Peterson (MN) and Jeff Van Drew (NJ).
ON THE CALENDAR:
Nov. 5 — ELECTION DAY.
Nov. 16 — Louisiana governor runoff between Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) and Eddie Rispone (R).
Nov. 20 — Fifth Democratic presidential debate, Atlanta (MSNBC).
Feb. 3 — Iowa caucuses.
Feb. 11 — New Hampshire primary.
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This Day In Political History: Mayor Fiorello La Guardia of New York City wins a third term on the Republican, City Fusion, American Labor and United City Party tickets, defeating his Democratic opponent, Manhattan District Attorney William O’Dwyer. The NYC council gets its first Communist Party member in history, Peter Cacchione of Brooklyn. Also elected on this day: Colgate Darden as governor of Virginia, Frank Lausche as mayor of Cleveland, and Erastus Corning 2nd in Albany, all Democrats. Among the other mayors reelected include Maurice Tobin (D) in Boston and Jasper McLevy (Socialist) in Bridgeport, Conn. (Nov. 4, 1941).
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