The US seems to be in perpetual election cycle mode. There were some state and local elections yesterday and the results were interesting. Much attention has been paid to the governor’s race in Kentucky where the incumbent Republican Matt Bevin narrowly lost 49.2-48.8% to Democrat Andy Beshear who has claimed victory even though Bevin has yet to concede. Kentucky is a solidly Republican state though Democrats have won the governorships before and indeed Beshear’s father was governor before Bevin. There may be a recount, though the Republican senate president has ominously threatened to use an obscure state law that has not been used for 120 years that says that the state legislature can decide the result of a ‘contested’ election. Since the legislature is Republican, we know how that will turn out. But if he does carry out that threat, expect to see furious legal challenges.
But what has garnered the most attention was that this was a race in which Donald Trump invested himself heavily. The pattern is familiar. Trump avoids races that he knows Republicans will lose or will win easily, the latter such as in Mississippi. Instead he goes all in on the races that are contested but where he won big in 2016 (he won Kentucky by a 30% margin) and that he thinks his party can win, holding massive rallies just before election day and exhorting his followers to win one for the Gipper in order to boost turnout of his followers on election day. Then if his candidate wins, he can claim that the victory was all due to his efforts. In this case, he really went over the top, making the election all about himself. Trump even said, “If you lose, it sends a really bad message … you can’t let that happen to me.”
Here’s Trump saying at his rally in Kentucky last night that Matt Bevin losing “sends a really bad message” and pleading with his fans, “you can’t let that happen to me!”
Welp, it happened. pic.twitter.com/LUHSUAgSnB
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 6, 2019
Now that Bevin has likely lost, Trump apologists are dismissing it as due to Bevin being not a very good governor and running a poor campaign and that it was trump who made the race even close. But since Trump became president, Democrats have flipped governorships from Republican to Democrat in Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, New Jersey, Illinois, Maine, Wisconsin, Michigan, and now, Kentucky. This suggests that trump’s coattails are not that strong.
Virginia had a Democratic governor but Republicans controlled the state Senate 21-19 and the House of Delegates 51-49 and had been able to block any legislation they did not like. Yesterday’s election saw Democrats capture both houses to give them complete control of the state, with the Senate now 21-19 and the House of Delegates 55-45 in favor of Democrats.
Also troubling for Republicans is how they seem to have lost control of former strongholds in Pennsylvania and Democrats in general did well in suburban areas across the country. This suburban slide is a source of concern for Republicans generally.
The turnout was high for an off-year election in Kentucky, increasing by about 400,000 from the previous one in 2015. This was likely a Trump effect. The problem with Trump making elections into a referendum on him personally is that this can be a two-edged sword. It may well boost turnout among his supporters but it will also energize those who cannot stand him and like nothing better than to wipe that smug smile off his face.
They did that in Kentucky.