In the past few weeks, Democrats have seen a number of positive outcomes in elections where a typical Republican ought to run away with it. Louisiana, Mississippi and Kentucky each held their gubernatorial contests this year, and all three are states where Donald Trump won with relative ease. They’re firmly in the Republican column in terms of national elections.
But Democratic candidates in two of the three states were able to win. In Kentucky, terribly unpopular incumbent Republican Matt Bevin conceded defeat to his challenger, Democrat Andy Beshear. It continued a decades-long trend of one-term Republican governors, in a reliably red state. In no small part, the incumbent contributed to his own demise. Governor Bevin conducted himself in a brash way, making more enemies than necessary and generally rubbing people the wrong way. He molded himself as a Trumpish figure, but the problem with running as Trump is that nobody but Trump can do it.
In Louisiana, the circumstances were flipped. John Bel Edwards faced reelection. A Democrat, he won in an upset race in 2015, and was considered by many a fluke governor. But in last week’s contest, he put any doubts to rest, winning by three points over Republican challenger Eddie Rispone. Rispone benefited from a handful of visits from the president, as well as a personal fortune to pour into the race. Alas, he fell short.
In the days leading up to these elections, and certainly in the days following, there have been plenty of analyses and suggestions about why Beshear or Edwards were able to win. Unsurprisingly, most of the arguments you read about it in the larger publications try to draw conclusions about how these results augur for the presidential contest in 2020. Though they are certainly data points and possible indicators, the real upshot is for statewide contests next year, particularly Governor Roy Cooper’s reelection bid.
All politics is local, or so said Tip O’Neill, longtime Speaker of the House. Though a menagerie of variables affect races on a statewide scale, there are two in particular that warrant mention.
First, in Kentucky. Incumbent Governor Matt Bevin made enemies of plenty people, but in particular the Kentucky teachers. All throughout the past year, teachers went on strike over proposed budgets that reduced public education funding. Bevin also made a number of somewhat snide remarks about the striking teachers, and the Republican-led Kentucky House of Representatives passed resolutions condemning his remarks.
In Louisiana, the incumbent John Bel Edwards had a positive record to run on. In his first term, Edwards accepted the Medicaid expansion provided by the federal government under the Affordable Care Act. Studies show that, while many states saw a slight uptick in the uninsured rate, Louisiana halved the number of people without coverage in the three years after expansion.
These issues are not unique to Louisiana or Kentucky. In fact, Governor Cooper has been in the middle of the fight over both in North Carolina. The past few months, Cooper and the Republican leaders in the General Assembly have been at an impasse in budget negotiations. Neither side can agree on a middle ground for teacher pay raises. That’s resulted in a stalemate for now.
On Medicaid expansion, Cooper has also faced opposition. The governor wants a clean expansion, accepting the coverage for hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians. As written, expansion would be cost neutral for the state; the federal government covers 90% and health care providers pick up the rest. That’s on top of economic benefits from a healthier workforce, and thousands of new jobs created in and around the health care industry.
If the Kentucky and Louisiana gubernatorial contests are indicators, the winning side of these issues on both counts is Governor Cooper. If he wins reelection, their odds of success will rest more on whether he has an amenable legislature for once in his tenure.
Kirk Kovach is a native North Carolinian interested in writing about politics, communication and culture.