Politics & Policy

Kentucky and Virginia Elections Bode Poorly for Democrats in 2016

You don’t have to wander long in the liberal commentariat to find projections that the Republican party is in a death spiral, doomed by demographics, discredited by the dissension among House Republicans, disenchanted with its experienced presidential candidates, and despised by the great mass of voters.

There is something to be said for each of these propositions — and yet Republican candidates keep winning elections, as in recent contests in Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Virginia.

Admittedly, the first three of these states have been solidly Republican in recent presidential and congressional elections, and Americans have increasingly been straight-ticket voters. But state issues do give a non-dominant party a chance to reframe issues across national party lines. And Virginia was the state that voted closest to national percentages in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

The Kentucky result was particularly striking. Retiring Democratic governor Steve Beshear was a big booster of Obamacare and extended Medicaid to many low-income Kentuckians. The Democratic nominee, Attorney General Jack Conway, is an adept politico. Republican nominee Matt Bevin was distrusted by insiders for running in the primary against Senator Mitch McConnell in 2014, and he had a business record open to attack. Democrats spent about $9 million to Republicans’ $5 million. The RealClearPolitics average of public polls showed Conway leading 44 to 41 percent.

But Bevin won by 53 to 44 percent. Conway carried the state’s two largest counties, containing Louisville and Lexington. But Bevin carried 106 of the 118 others. As in McConnell’s race, the Democrat matched pre-election poll numbers. The Republican exceeded his.

What may be happening is that Republicans are disgruntled with party leaders; their disapproval is largely responsible for the Republican party getting more unfavorable ratings than the Democratic party. While they won’t outwardly commit to voting Republican, on Election Day they do. This would explain similar phenomena in the 2014 races in Kansas and Virginia.

The results in Louisiana and Mississippi were similar. In Louisiana’s all-party primary October 17, three Republican candidates got 57 percent of the vote, and three Democrats 42 percent.

We have been told frequently that a surge of blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Millennials into the electorate will move it inexorably toward Democrats. But so far the surge hasn’t happened.

But the single prominent Democrat, John Bel Edwards, got 40 percent, and the winner among three prominent Republicans, Senator David Vitter, got only 23 percent. Vitter, like Bevin, has weaknesses as a candidate and could lose the November 16 runoff. As for Mississippi, Republican governor Phil Bryant was reelected with 67 percent of the vote in a race that wasn’t seriously contested.

Some Democrats dismiss their losses as the result of low turnout. Wait till turnout rises to presidential-year levels, they say, and it’s inevitable that Democrats will do fine.

Maybe so, but it was Democratic more than Republican turnout that lagged. Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi Republicans got more votes than their party’s candidates have in all but a few past elections. But in Louisiana and Kentucky, Democrats got fewer votes than their counterparts have in elections (except for 1999, not seriously contested in either state) since 1972 and 1967, respectively. The last time a Mississippi Democratic governor candidate got fewer votes was in 1963.

This happened even though Mississippi and Louisiana have higher percentages of blacks than any other state. Spontaneous heavy turnout by blacks made these states two of only five to give Barack Obama higher percentages in 2012 than 2008. But without Obama on the ballot, black turnout dropped sharply — not a good sign for Democrats in 2016 and beyond.

We have been told frequently that a surge of “ascendant” Americans — blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Millennials — into the electorate will move it inexorably toward Democrats. But so far the surge hasn’t happened. Turnout, particularly Democratic turnout, declined from 2008 to 2012 presidentially and from 2010 to 2014 congressionally. Barack Obama got 3.5 million fewer votes in 2012 than in 2008.

Let’s finish with Virginia, where Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg spent millions to win control of the state senate. They fell short: Republicans maintained their edge and lead 66–34 in the Virginia House of Delegates.

If you add up the votes cast in the state-senate contests, Republicans won 53 percent and Democrats 44 percent — the same numbers as in the gubernatorial race in Kentucky. That’s not necessarily a forecast of the 2016 result in the nation’s current bellwether state. But it doesn’t look like a death spiral for Republicans.

— Michael Barone is senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner. © 2015 the Washington Examiner. Distributed by Creators.com

Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. © 2018 Creators.com

Most Popular

The Secret Life of Joe Biden

In a classic episode of Seinfeld, Jerry is accused by his new girlfriend, a police officer, of being a fan of the tacky 1990s soap opera Melrose Place. When Jerry lies and denies it, she suggests putting him on a polygraph to find the truth. In an effort to beat the machine, Jerry seeks the advice of his ... Read More

The Secret Life of Joe Biden

In a classic episode of Seinfeld, Jerry is accused by his new girlfriend, a police officer, of being a fan of the tacky 1990s soap opera Melrose Place. When Jerry lies and denies it, she suggests putting him on a polygraph to find the truth. In an effort to beat the machine, Jerry seeks the advice of his ... Read More
National Security & Defense

Jared Kushner Was Right

Over the past several years, a new certainty was added to death and taxes: Jared Kushner would fail in his role as the administration’s Middle East point man. It caused considerable merriment among President Donald Trump’s critics (and even some of his well-wishers) when he put his son-in-law in charge of ... Read More
National Security & Defense

Jared Kushner Was Right

Over the past several years, a new certainty was added to death and taxes: Jared Kushner would fail in his role as the administration’s Middle East point man. It caused considerable merriment among President Donald Trump’s critics (and even some of his well-wishers) when he put his son-in-law in charge of ... Read More

The Consequences of Biden

If you have decided that another four years of Donald Trump would be intolerable, and the prospect of four more years of the dysfunctional Trump circus in the White House fills you with dread, fine. But approach the prospects of a Joe Biden presidency with clear eyes and no illusions. Electing Biden would move ... Read More

The Consequences of Biden

If you have decided that another four years of Donald Trump would be intolerable, and the prospect of four more years of the dysfunctional Trump circus in the White House fills you with dread, fine. But approach the prospects of a Joe Biden presidency with clear eyes and no illusions. Electing Biden would move ... Read More
Media

How American Journalism Died

In 2017, the liberal Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University found that 93 percent of CNN’s coverage of the Trump administration was negative. The center found similarly negative Trump coverage at other major news outlets. The election year 2020 has only accelerated ... Read More
Media

How American Journalism Died

In 2017, the liberal Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University found that 93 percent of CNN’s coverage of the Trump administration was negative. The center found similarly negative Trump coverage at other major news outlets. The election year 2020 has only accelerated ... Read More

The Last Days of Robin Williams

After Robin Williams hanged himself in 2014, the media speculated that financial troubles or depression related to drug or alcohol use might have been the cause. Without discussing those topics, Williams’s widow, Susan Schneider Williams, is eager to set the record straight and does so in Robin’s Wish, a ... Read More

The Last Days of Robin Williams

After Robin Williams hanged himself in 2014, the media speculated that financial troubles or depression related to drug or alcohol use might have been the cause. Without discussing those topics, Williams’s widow, Susan Schneider Williams, is eager to set the record straight and does so in Robin’s Wish, a ... Read More

In Praise of Trade School

About a decade ago, I participated in a discussion hosted by the chamber of commerce in a university town about state policies regarding higher education. I’ll never forget the first comment I got from one of the attendees. “The problem with your presentation,” she said, “is that it didn’t focus ... Read More

In Praise of Trade School

About a decade ago, I participated in a discussion hosted by the chamber of commerce in a university town about state policies regarding higher education. I’ll never forget the first comment I got from one of the attendees. “The problem with your presentation,” she said, “is that it didn’t focus ... Read More