by Thomas Valentine
Four states have elections this Tuesday. Some of them could be early bellwethers for the 2020 elections. Here’s what you need to know about these elections and why you should care even if you don’t live in one of the four states.
Virginia has some of the most important races of the year. The entire state legislature is up for re-election, and the future of the state hangs in the balance as Republicans cling to a 21-19 majority in the state Senate and a 51-49 majority in the state House after a blue wave took out many Republicans in 2017.
Once a reliably red state, Virginia hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential nominee since 2004 and hasn’t elected a Republican statewide since 2009. That can be attributed to the growth of the wealthy, heavily liberal suburbs of Washington, D.C. in northern Virginia. Democrats are looking to take control of the House for the first time since 2000.
Virginia Democrats were ravaged by scandal earlier this year, as Gov. Ralph Northam’s blackface photos were exposed, Attorney General Mark Herring also admitted to wearing blackface, and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax was accused by multiple women of rape and sexual assault. Northam, who was elected in 2017, faced near-universal calls for his resignation but resisted, instead choosing to embark on an apology tour. Now, the same Democrats who demanded his resignation have quietly welcomed him back into the fold, holding joint fundraisers with him and accepting his donations. Herring has also escaped largely unscathed. And Fairfax has been protected by Virginia Democrats, who have blocked Republican efforts to investigate the allegations in the General Assembly.
None of the three men are up for election this year, so the question heading into Tuesday’s elections is whether Virginia voters will remember the scandals that roiled Democrats earlier this year and punish them for it, or have they largely forgotten due to the stories fading from media coverage.
Key races to keep an eye on include:
Kentucky could be an early bellwether for 2020, as Democrats seek to defeat Republican incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin and take back the governorship in this southern state.
Like most southern states, Kentucky became a reliably red state in presidential elections in the Reagan years, but it has continued to favor Democrats in state elections. That changed in 2015 when Bevin won by nine points and Republicans took four of six statewide offices. Bevin has governed as a strong conservative, championing and signing a law prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks when unborn babies can feel pain, taking on teachers’ unions and signing a right-to-work law, and literally cleaning out the state Capitol.
Democrats hope to drive turnout in the left-leaning areas of Lexington and Louisville and send a shot across the bow for 2020 by beating a Republican in the South. Few polls have been taken, but a Mason-Dixon poll in October showed the race tied at 46 percent.
Down the ballot, Republican Daniel Cameron is seeking to replace Democrat Andy Beshear and become the first Republican Attorney General of Kentucky since 1948. Kentuckians will also vote in elections for Secretary of State, State Auditor, State Treasurer, Agriculture Commissioner, and one seat on the Kentucky Supreme Court.
Mississippi will elect a new governor as incumbent Gov. Phil Bryant is term-limited. Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves is vying to replace him.
Mississippi is a deep red state, but the race has been more competitive than usual because the Democrats nominated Attorney General Jim Hood, who was first elected attorney general in 2003 and was easily re-elected three times. Hood is a relatively conservative Democrat — most notably, he is pro-life and has said he would have signed Mississippi’s heartbeat bill (signed into law by Bryant), though Reeves has questioned Hood’s commitment to the pro-life cause. Hood’s relative conservatism means a victory would be less meaningful to national Democrats than a victory by Beshear in Kentucky.
Recent polls have shown Reeves with a single-digit lead over Hood. A close result could create some drama if it triggers a unique and rarely-used law in Mississippi: Statewide candidates must win at least a majority of the statewide popular vote and a majority of the popular vote in the majority of the state’s 122 House Districts. If no candidate wins both, the state House decides the winner. This has only happened once: in 1999, when the Democrat gubernatorial candidate won 49.6 percent of the vote to the Republicans 48.5 percent, and the two candidates each won 61 House districts. The Mississippi House, where Democrats held an 86-33 majority, voted 86-36 to elect the Democrat. If the race is as close as the polls suggest, the law could be triggered again.
Mississippians will vote on nine more statewide elections, including Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and Secretary of State.
New Jersey’s entire state legislature will be up for re-election. Republicans have shown signs of life in New Jersey, where Chris Christie won two terms as governor and recent GOP Senate candidates have drawn enough support to scare but not seriously threaten Democrats. But Christie became deeply unpopular in his second term — one poll showed his approval rating at 15 percent in his last year in office in 2017. Christie’s unpopularity hurt 2017 Republican gubernatorial nominee Kim Guadagno, who lost to far-left Phil Murphy by 14 points.
Democrats hold a 26-13 majority in the state Senate and a 54-26 majority in the General Assembly. The balance of power is not expected to change much this year.
Ballot measures will be presented to voters in six states. Notable ballot measures include:
Photo credit: Erik Hersman via Flickr, CC BY 2.0