This year’s selection of off-year elections are not the most exciting and high-stakes battles in American politics, and after hearing candidates proclaim, “this year is most important election year of our lifetime” almost every year for the past decade and a half, it’s a relief. But by tomorrow morning, we will know a few things.
One: In Louisiana, if incumbent Jon Bel Edwards gets reelected, it will demonstrate that a Democrat can win in a deep South, GOP-trending state . . . if he’s willing to defy the national party’s orthodoxy on abortion. Some Democrats might be willing to make that trade, others will not.
Two: In Kentucky, if incumbent governor Matt Bevin loses, it will be a disappointment for Republicans and indicate that despite the Bluegrass State being reliably Republican in presidential and Senate elections, Kentucky Democrats remain significantly stronger in the fight for control of state government. Democrats will insist this means they can beat Mitch McConnell next year, which is highly unlikely, but could turn Amy McGrath into the Beto O’Rourke of the coming cycle: a well-funded Democrat getting a lot of national press because she’s taking on an incumbent GOP senator whom progressives detest. Yes, Beto lost his race in 2018, but he created coattails for some Democratic wins lower on the ticket.
Three: In Mississippi, GOP lieutenant governor Tate Reeves and Democratic attorney general Jim Hood are competing in the governor’s race, and a Hood win would represent further evidence that Democrats can win in deep red places by giving a bit of ground on some cultural issues, much like Edwards. Hood defended the state’s fetal heartbeat law, describes himself as “pro-life and pro-gun,” and is running a very shrewd campaign, running on expanding Medicaid and rural health care options, expanded pre-K, and pledging targeted tax cuts. Once again, some national Democrats may not find electing pro-life and pro-gun candidates palatable.
Four: In Virginia, either the ebullient confidence of the state Democratic party will prove to be well-informed and astute, or Democrats will have fooled themselves into getting excited about higher margins in districts that are already blue. An early October survey of the generic ballot put Democrats ahead, 49 percent to 36 percent. But if that’s just increasing the enthusiasm in Democratic-leaning places like Alexandria, Arlington, Charlottesville, and Fairfax, it won’t change the makeup of the state legislature. So far, the number of absentee ballots returned is up dramatically compared to 2015 . . . but a lot of that is in districts that Democrats already hold.
Five: No one expects a dramatic change in the makeup of the New Jersey state assembly, but it would be nice if the Garden State GOP showed a pulse.
Six: Many on the Right will be hoping Washington state does not restore affirmative action and racial preferences to state contracting and university admissions, that Texas approves a state constitutional amendment to make it more difficult to ever enact an income tax, that Coloradans reject Proposition CC, which would end the state’s constitutional caps on tax revenue, and that Tucson, Ariz., does not become a sanctuary city.
If 2019 turns out to be a lousy year for Republicans . . . then it’s another ominous indicator for 2020. The 2017 off-year elections like the New Jersey and Virginia governor’s races were brutal for Republicans; the 2018 midterms were terrible in the House, a mixed bag in the governor’s races, but pretty good in the Senate, and then a bad 2019 would be the third straight during the Trump presidency. Trump’s fans will argue, with some merit, that he’s not on the ballot and he cannot single-handedly overcome other factors like candidate flaws. But the fact remains that Democratic turnout has been generally excellent ever since Trump was elected, an indication that the president motivates his opposition as much as he motivates his own base.