In recent weeks, the political news media has been obsessing over two things: Whether or not President Trump is going to be impeached and the latest twists and turns in the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primary. Watching the political news, one might think that no other political issue is important in the fall of 2019, but the media is forgetting one other crucial issue in the near future. On Tuesday, November 5, 2019, millions of Americans will exercise their right to vote in important elections at the state level, and the results from these elections may indicate some important political trends.
Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Jersey and Virginia all have important elections at the state level this cycle. Specifically, Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana have gubernatorial elections. Like all gubernatorial elections, these three elections have consequences ranging from the future policy direction of each respective state to congressional redistricting with regard to the 2020 census. But these three gubernatorial elections also have important consequences involving President Trump. In 2016, President Trump carried Kentucky by 30 points, Mississippi by 17 points and Louisiana by 20 points.
President Trump’s dominance in these states in 2016 was consistent with how he performed throughout the whole South; the President won about 60% of the collective Southern vote. Yet the gubernatorial elections in these three states appear to be tossups heading into election day 2019, and one can make a strong argument that the Democratic Party will win all three of these races based on current polling and candidate popularity. The crux is this: If Republicans lose these gubernatorial races, then the evidence is clear that President Trump’s popularity is dwindling in the American South.
However, New Jersey and Virginia are both holding state legislative elections, which are likely going to provide essential insight into each state’s unique trends. New Jersey Republicans have been decimated in recent years because of former Gov. Chris Christie’s unpopularity. To give an example of this sweeping unpopularity, consider that only one Republican remains in the entire New Jersey congressional delegation. But Christie has been out of office for two years and the current governor, Democrat Phil Murphy, is not the most popular governor. Republicans have a chance to turn around their fortunes in the Garden State in the upcoming legislative elections.
Finally, the state of Virginia has been trending Democratic for nearly a decade. Despite once being a conservative state (George W. Bush won Virginia by 8 points in 2004), no Republican has won Virginia statewide since 2009 and Republicans lost the last statewide race by 16 points in 2018. The only remaining source of Republican strength in Virginia is in the state legislature where Republicans hold tiny majorities in both houses. But it’s expected that Democrats will take back control of these legislative houses this year and, in doing so, will monopolize control over the levers of political power in the state.
For political observers, this likely Democratic monopoly in Virginia is stunning. Democrats should study how they turned Virginia blue and use their findings as a blueprint for achieving national success.