At first blush, this year’s elections may seem a little too predictable. There are only three gubernatorial elections in 2019, and they’re in three ruby-red states: Mississippi (which Donald Trump won by 17 points), Louisiana (which Trump won by 20 points), Kentucky (which Trump won by 30 points).
It’s easy to imagine Republican candidates faring very well in Republican states, at which point Donald Trump will make up some imaginary polls and announce that each of the GOP candidates was trailing badly until he took an interest in their candidacies.
But as Election Day 2019 approaches, the landscape features some nuances that make it worthy of national attention. Let’s unpack what’s in store:
Mississippi: With incumbent Gov. Phil Bryant (R) unable to run for a third consecutive term, voters in the Magnolia State will tomorrow choose between Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) and state Attorney General Jim Hood (D). Given Mississippi’s leanings, Republicans have an automatic advantage in statewide races, though it’s worth noting that Hood has been elected (and re-elected) as the state A.G. – an office he’s held for 16 years, his party affiliation notwithstanding.
That said, one of the challenges facing Hood is Mississippi’s Jim-Crow-era rule that requires gubernatorial candidates to win both the most votes and a majority of the state’s 122 state House districts. Failure to clear both thresholds would send the race to the Republican-dominated legislature. The system was designed to undermine the voting power of the state’s African-American population – Mississippi has the largest percentage of black residents of any U.S. state – and as one analysis recently noted, this highly dubious, historically scandalous provision makes it “all but impossible for a Democrat to win in November.”
Still, given Hood’s popularity and record of success, Republicans aren’t taking the race for granted: Donald Trump was in Mississippi on Friday night, trying to rally support for Reeves.
Kentucky: Incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin (R) is seeking a second term, taking on state Attorney General Andy Beshear (D). If party considerations were taken off the table, Bevin would almost certainly lose: the governor is broadly unpopular and disliked by lawmakers in both parties. Indeed, Bevin faced multiple GOP primary rivals – unheard of in recent memory for a governor who isn’t under indictment – and barely survived the process, eking out a win with 52% support among voters in his own party.
But Kentucky elected Bevin because he’s a Republican, and his party affiliation gives him a decent chance of winning a second term. Donald Trump, who appears to have a special affinity for Bevin, will be in the Bluegrass State tonight trying to help get him across the finish line.
A recent Mason-Dixon poll showed the gubernatorial race tied, with both Bevin and Beshear generating 46% support.
Louisiana: Unlike Mississippi and Kentucky, which will have their races tomorrow, Louisiana’s gubernatorial runoff isn’t until Nov. 16, which is a week from Saturday. That said, Trump will be in the Pelican State this week, hoping to help elect Eddie Rispone (R), a Trump-like candidate making his first bid for elected office.
He’ll be taking on incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), who beat David Vitter (R) with surprising ease four years ago, thanks in part to Louisianans’ disgust for former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R) failures. Edwards has helped get his state back on track – Jindal’s record remains a key element of the governor’s re-election pitch – and polls suggest he has a decent shot at a second term, despite the state’s partisan leanings.
Virginia: Perhaps tomorrow’s most notable contests will be a down-ballot affair: Republicans currently enjoy the narrowest of majorities in Virginia’s state Senate and state House of Delegates, and Democrats believe they have a real chance of claiming new majorities in both chambers tomorrow.
The only reason the GOP majority exists is a heavily gerrymandered map – in Virginia’s most recent legislative elections, Democrats received the most votes, though Republicans received the most power – and that map has since been replaced by court-ordered district boundaries.
The commonwealth has been inching closer and closer to “blue”-state status in recent years, and Democratic gains tomorrow would be consistent with that larger trend.
Elsewhere: For election watchers, there are plenty of other races of note on tap tomorrow, including mayoral elections in Houston, where Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) is running for re-election; San Francisco, where Mayor London Breed (D) is seeking a second term; and Indianapolis, where Mayor Joe Hogsett (D) is also seeking a second term. There are also mayoral races in Des Moines, and Salt Lake City, and South Bend (Pete Buttigieg is giving up his office and I have a hunch you know what office he’s currently seeking.)
Finally, keep an eye on New York City, where voters will decide whether to implement instant-runoff voting – which is sometimes referred to as ranked-choice voting – in city primaries and special elections.