Tonight, we’ll get our best preview of the 2020 elections. In Virginia, Kentucky, Mississippi and New Jersey, voters will choose new state legislators and in Mississippi and Kentucky, new governors. While a lot can change in a year, we’ll get a sense of where the electorate is today, at least in these states. 

In the past, Virginia legislative races predicted what would happen in North Carolina the following year. In 1993, Democrats lost in a landslide that preceded the 1994 wave that gave Republicans in North Carolina control of the House of Representatives for the first time since Reconstruction. Two years later, Democrats’ success in 1995 in Virginia was followed by their success in 1996 in North Carolina. Virginia has changed faster than North Carolina and is a much bluer state today than it was in the 1990s, but it still offers us a window into voters’ behavior. 

This year, Democrats are trying to take control of the state legislature. Republicans have narrow majorities in both chambers, but court-ordered redistricting, Trump’s dismal approval ratings and the state’s slow but steady shift from purple to blue gives Democrats hope that they can capture at least one chamber and maybe both. If they do, it should give Democrats here some encouragement. 

Four years ago, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin surprised the country with an upset victory that should have warned us about Trump. He tapped into the same dissatisfaction that Trump did and beat the sitting attorney general handily. This year, he’s facing another Democratic attorney general, Andy Beshear, with both the advantages and burdens of incumbency. If Beshear unseats an incumbent governor in Mitch McConnell’s home state, Democrats should study the results for clues on how to challenge Trump in other red to purple states next year.   

In Mississippi, Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood faces Republican Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves. If Hood defeats Reeves, it will send shock waves across the country and serve as a serious warning to Republicans. Mississippi is one of Donald Trump’s most solid states. A Democrat hasn’t been elected governor there in 20 years. Hood has made it a race and the outcome could be telling for the future. Mississippi has a mini Electoral College: A gubernatorial candidate must win a majority of legislative districts to win. It’s being challenged in the courts, and could be overturned if Hood wins statewide, but otherwise the heavily Republican legislature would choose the winner.

None of the races tonight are predictive but they do let us know the political mood of the states in play and a hint at the political mood nationally. If Republicans do well, Democrats will need to do serious work to change the environment heading into 2020. If Democrats do well, Republicans will need to figure out how to retool at a time when Trump doling out the instruments. 

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