Yesterday, voters in New Jersey, Virginia, Kentucky, and Mississippi went to the polls to elect members to their respective state legislatures. In Kentucky and Mississippi, the state’s governorship was also up for grabs.
New Jersey and Mississippi, two heavily partisan states controlled by Democrats and Republicans respectively, saw little change in the makeup of their state government. In Virginia, Democrats were able to flip control of both the state House and Senate, giving them control of the legislature and governorship for the first time since the early 90s. The governor’s race in Kentucky has been called in favor of Democrat Andy Beshear, who leads incumbent Gov. Matt Bevins (R-KY) by about 5,000 votes. Bevins, however, has declined to concede the race and it is unclear if he will call for a recount or challenge the election outright.
The Washington Post has a good compilation of the results of the elections here if you’re looking to dive deeper into the numbers. In today’s Political Edge, however, we’ve pulled together some interesting nuggets of analysis on how last night’s election panned out and what it might mean for 2020.
Election Night Trend – Suburb Problems For GOP
Suburban Areas Continue To Turn Away From The GOP
Per FiveThirtyEight, Democrats’ gains in Virginia pretty much all came in suburban seats. (FiveThirtyEight, 11/6/19)
PBS News Hour reports “Suburban voters turned out in big numbers to back Democratic candidates, continuing a trend of once GOP-friendly suburbs turning blue. This is the third election in a row in which Virginia Democrats made significant gains since President Donald Trump was elected.” They continue: “Del. Tim Hugo lost his spot as the last Republican representing Fairfax County, northern Virginia’s most populous suburban jurisdiction.”
According to FiveThirtyEight’s analysis, Andy Beshear (D-KY) and Jim Hood (D-MS) ran up huge margins in suburban counties compared to what the Kentucky and Mississippi maps looked like in 2015.
A breakdown by Roll Call notes that in 2015, Gov. Matt Bevin (R-KY) carried the Cincinnati suburbs in northern Kentucky, but Beshear carried the area in 2019.
The same breakdown points out that in northern Mississippi, the Memphis suburbs, the GOP margin in DeSoto County dropped from 61 points in 2015 to 20 points.
Gov. Matt Bevins (R-KY) Lost, But Other Republicans In The State Outperformed Him
Flashback: Trump won Kentucky by 30 points in 2016 but Bevin currently trails Andy Beshear by about 5,000 votes. (Vox, 11/5/19)
While that may be a red flag for the GOP, Vox notes that Bevin was among the most unpopular governors in the country, and other Republican leaders in the state outperformed him on Tuesday. Bevin also performed poorer than expected in the traditionally Democratic Appalachian coal counties that went for Trump in 2016.
Despite Bevin’s poor showing, FiveThirtyEight notes that both chambers of the state legislature are still Republican-controlled, and in Kentucky, a simple majority is all that’s needed to override a gubernatorial veto.
What Are The Rules Regarding A Possible Recount?
Bevin has declined to concede the race to Beshear, suggesting that there may have been voting irregularities. With a 5,000-vote margin splitting the candidates, what are Bevin’s options? First, it’s important to note that there is no provision for an automatic recount under Kentucky law. According to USA Today, here is how a recount could play out in Kentucky should Bevin decide to pursue one:
A candidate can submit a written request to the secretary of state for a recanvassing, which is a review of the vote totals by each county clerk — counting absentee votes and checking printouts to make sure the numbers they transmitted to the State Board of Elections were correct.
Following a recanvass, a candidate can file a petition for a formal recount that includes a physical examination of the ballots (the candidate requesting a recount is charged for the costs). The judge would take possession of the paper ballots and voting machines and conduct their own recount. After doing so, the judge would make the final decision on who won the race, but that would be subject to appeal to the Kentucky Court of Appeals or the Kentucky Supreme Court.
A candidate also has a third option: a formal election contest, which must also be filed by the Tuesday after the election. Under this contest, the candidate challenging the results must specify the grounds for the action, such as a violation of campaign finance rules or specific problems when it comes to how ballots were cast.
Democrats Flipped Control Of Both Chambers
Virginia Democrats flipped both the state House and Senate. With control of both chambers of the legislature and the governorship, Democrats have full control of Virginia government for the first time since the early 1990s.
In the House, Democrats picked up six seats for a 55-45 majority.
According to analysis from FiveThirtyEight’s Geoffrey Skelley, Democrats needed 2 seats for majority – they ended up with a 6-seat gain (pending recounts). They held all 49 Democratic seats, including open ones. 4 of the 6 gains were redistricted to some/large extent, so without redistricting it might’ve been D+2/3. (Twitter, 11/06/19)
Skelley notes that 4 GOP-held Senate seats were on the playing field that Clinton carried in 2016: Dems won 2 and Republicans held onto 2.
An Easy Win For Republicans
Republicans held onto the Mississippi governorship, where Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves defeated Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood.
- Hood was always considered the longest shot of the night for Democrats, with nonpartisan polls and election handicappers all agreeing that Reeves was favored. Republicans will hold onto their governing trifecta in Mississippi.