In the previous installment, we discussed (at a high level) the election landscape across the country between July and September. In this installment, we will discuss elections occurring in the “home stretch” of October and November.
The death of the late Senator Robert Byrd and the subsequent election of the state’s Democratic Governor (Joe Manchin) to Byrd’s seat is the backdrop for the special gubernatorial election which will be held on October 4. Democrats have selected Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin (who has 37 years’ experience in the Legislature) as its nominee, while Republicans selected businessman Bill Maloney. Though Democrats have historically dominated here, the unpopularity of Democratic positions issues like guns and “cap and trade” have provided Republicans with an opening here; even with Manchin’s popularity as Governor and the shortcomings of his Republican opponent, Democrat Joe Manchin was only elected Senator with 54% of the vote last year. Plus, this is a state that has only voted Republican for President three times between 1932 and 1996, while in the last three Presidential elections, West Virginia has voted Republican each time.
Louisiana is having its primary on October 22. On the ballot will be all statewide offices, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), all 144 legislative seats, and a plethora of local/parish wide offices. For the first time since Reconstruction, Republicans control all the statewide races; the question in this election is whether they can hold them all. At the top of the ballot, incumbent governor Bobby Jindal does not yet have a first tier opponent (Democratic teacher Tara Hollis is the only announced candidate so far), and with qualifying on September 6-8 looming, Democrats are under time and fundraising pressures to find someone to run for that and the other statewide races.
While Republicans are defending their statewide elected positions, they are going on the offensive in several BESE races (that low-key statewide board has not been one where Republicans have yet had a lot of success). Legislative races in the wake of reapportionment also are worth watching; due to recent special election victories and party switches, the Republicans have a 22-17 majority in the Senate and a 55-46 edge in the House (there are also 4 Independents). In the past, the presence of entrenched Democratic incumbents before term limits (and perhaps lack of confidence or interest from potential Republican candidates) prevented Republicans from seriously contesting many legislative seats. To illustrate, even though the Republicans were successful in 76% of the legislative seats they contested in 2007, they only contested 56% of Senate seats and 64% of House seats. So a lot of seats were left on the table that should not have been: in the 2010 Senate race, David Vitter received a majority of the vote in 69% of the state senate and state House districts.
November 8 is Election Day everywhere but Louisiana. Kentucky and Mississippi hold their gubernatorial elections that day. The likely Republican nominee, Lt. Governor Phil Bryant, is the favorite to win that race, as Democrats don’t have a “top tier” candidate in that race. In Kentucky, the Democratic incumbent (Steve Beshear) faces stiff competition from state Senate President David Williams. Though this is a state which, like West Virginia, has moved away from its traditional blue collar Democratic heritage, Beshear leads in polls partly because of his incumbency, and partly because TEA Party groups and conservative activists have not warmed to Williams’ candidacy. Either way, this is a tough state for Republicans at the gubernatorial level: in the past 80 years, Republicans have occupied the chair for only 12 of those years.
There are also legislative races in Mississippi, Virginia, and New Jersey. In Mississippi, the Democrats remain entrenched in the House (Republicans control the Senate), but since neither side could agree on a reapportionment plan, the elections will be run under the old lines, and Republicans have some hope of narrowing or overturning the Democratic House majority. Virginia is another situation where control is split between the parties, although in this case, the Senate is Democratic controlled. Republicans are hoping to retake the Senate, and are bolstered by the fact that they made significant gains in the House in 2009 (Senators are only elected every 4 years in Virginia). Finally, in New Jersey, both houses are controlled by Democrats, so Republicans are hoping to narrow (or overturn) Democratic leads there – in a sense, legislative elections here are important becaus they will be a referendum on the policies of its pugnacious Republican governor, Chris Christie.
Finally, any races in Louisiana that were not settled in October (i.e., no one got 50% of the vote) will be settled in the November 19 runoff.