Most of the attention in politics has focused on the 2016 elections, but a few contests on this Election Day 2015 are worth noting, too. Republicans have had a long history of frustration in gubernatorial races in otherwise friendly Kentucky, and they may well add another chapter of failure today — unless a last-minute infusion of cash can bridge the gap for Matt Bevin:
Republicans are pouring money into a last-minute effort in Tuesday’s Kentucky gubernatorial race, aiming to rescue Matt Bevin’s struggling campaign and keep the GOP from again being shut out of the conservative state’s governorship.
Bevin, who polls show is trailing by a small margin, appears on the verge of joining the list of tea party-aligned candidates whom establishment operatives will blame for years to come for losing a winnable race. Like other Republicans damaged by the party’s Obama-era civil war, Bevin took untenable positions in the primary that Democrats have turned against him in the general. And the Republican businessman’s strategy and decisions throughout the campaign have baffled longtime political observers.
Democrat Jack Conway, the state’s attorney general, is fighting against another Obama-era political trend: the Democratic wipeout at the state level, especially in the South. The president’s party has 11 fewer governorships than in 2008 and could lose one of its two governors in the South if Conway falters in the race to replace term-limited Gov. Steve Beshear.
The two trends will collide Tuesday in a low-turnout election following an ugly campaign in which the candidates have repeatedly accused each other of lying about their records. Conway supporters are cautiously optimistic, while Bevin’s backers think a late injection of advertising dollars — from both the self-funding Bevin and national Republicans — could deliver them the governor’s mansion for just the second time since 1967.
Right now, the race has come down to turnout models. The most recent poll, conducted by SurveyUSA, shows Conway up five but only 45/40, and 10% of voters remain undecided in the final week. That series has shown a consistent five-point gap between Conway and Bevin for several weeks, prompting the last-minute intervention by the GOP. It’s close enough that a concerted effort on the ground could make the difference. However, Conway’s efforts to paint Bevin as untrustworthy have had an impact, so any GOTV effort to win had better be especially robust.
In Virginia, voters will elect both chambers of their legislature. Currently, the GOP has a supermajority in the House and a narrow majority in the Senate, which they have used to keep Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in check. Republicans don’t have much risk of losing the lower chamber, but Michael Bloomberg is doing his best to get Democrats in control of the upper chamber:
Outside groups are pouring into these suburban neighborhoods as they try and tip the balance in the Virginia state senate, a body that can flip to Democratic control with just one seat turning from red to blue. The leading agitator: New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg, whose pro-gun control super PAC has invested $2.2 million total in northern Virginia and in one other district near Richmond — an unprecedented sum for an election like this with no president, governor, U.S. senator or U.S. representative on the ballot.
But the bigger prize is the White House.
This “off-off-year” election in what has become a reliable purple state offers outside groups a playground to try out tools and arguments they hope can change the game in 2016. …
These tests are unfolding in an unusual campaign season that those in Virginia politics describe as suddenly dominated not by groups like AFP, but by one man: Bloomberg, whose gun safety super PAC, Everytown for Gun Safety, has flooded Virginia with advertisements that conservatives have not been able to match. Virginia is still reeling from the killings of two journalists on live television earlier this summer — and Everytown is trying to tap into that emotion.
Virginia Republicans caught a break this election season with the continuing resolution in Congress, which forestalled a potentially damaging government shutdown. That CR may not have been popular in other parts of the Republican world, but the avoidance of a shutdown was good news for the GOP in northern Virginia, where many federal workers and contractors live. It removed a headache for the state party, at the very least, allowing them to focus on the other issues in the election.
In fact, this might be even more interesting than Kentucky, especially as a harbinger for 2016. Ed Gillespie did a surprisingly good job in his GOTV efforts last year, and came within a whisker of a shocking upset of Mark Warner in the US Senate race. In my research for Going Red (which will be published by Crown Forum next spring), it became clear that the state GOP learned a lot of lessons from Gillespie and from the failure of the campaigns in 2012 and 2013, the latter of which saw Ken Cuccinelli lose to McAuliffe. Whether or not those lessons get applied in the state legislative race to protect Republican majorities — and especially this test of gun-control messaging by Democrats — will be of high interest to both parties and will determine just how much of a swing state Virginia may be in 2016.
Update: So much for the polling in Kentucky. Matt Bevin appears to have won big:
BREAKING: Matt Bevin elected governor of Kentucky, only the 2nd Republican governor in 4 decades.
— The Associated Press (@AP) November 4, 2015
At this point, with about two-thirds of counties reporting, Bevin leads 51.9/44.3 — a far cry from being five points down. That might tighten up a little, but Bevin’s outright majority makes this race look much different than it did earlier this week.
Update: Via Guy, Bevin’s win makes Kentucky history as his running mate will be the first black female Lt. Governor.
Update: The AoSHQDD folks are showing some good trends for Republicans in Virginia, too, but it’s too early to declare victory.
Update: Sean Trende is more pessimistic:
Hard to say, but I'm thinking VA-Sen goes D.
— Sean T at RCP (@SeanTrende) November 4, 2015
We’ll see soon enough.
Update: Both AoSHQDD and the CBS affiliate in Richmond call control of Virginia’s state senate for the GOP:
And Republicans hold the Virginia Senate. Now, Pennsylvania SC, what do you have for us…
— AoSHQ Decision Desk (@AoSHQDD) November 4, 2015
— Joe St. George (@JoeStGeorge) November 4, 2015
They’re back to 21 seats, and four races are still left to be called. It’s possible that they may extend their majority.