Democrats continued to build momentum this month with victories in Kentucky and Louisiana. Both candidates for governor, the winning Democrats, Andy Beshear and John Bel Edwards, defeated their Republican opponents by running on centrist platforms. The elections tell us several things about the state of national and North Carolina politics.
Political trends have favored Democrats throughout the Trump era, and the nature of that climate was vividly demonstrated in Louisiana and Kentucky. The Blue Grass State lies mostly in Appalachia, a conservative region that’s moved even farther to the right in the last decade, and accordingly, it votes 15 points to the right of the nation. Louisiana is nearly as conservative: Despite the state’s greater diversity, it rivals Kentucky in its staunch Republicanism, voting 11 points more Republican than average. That’s a testament to the extreme conservatism of white voters in a state that was once a French slave colony.
Democratic victories in these very red states indicate that the nation’s pro-Democratic mood extends to every corner of the country, no matter how unfavorable the fundamentals. The 2020 election could resemble the Democratic wave years of 2006 and 2008, when Democrats won seats in places as unlikely as Idaho and Alaska. If the trend holds, Team Blue will be able to compete in tough states like George and Ohio. Even Doug Jones, who represents a neighbor of Louisiana, has a fighting chance of reelection in this climate.
Edwards and Beshear achieved their impressive victories on the basis of political moderation. The Democratic Party is in the midst of a bitter dispute between its centrist and progressive factions. It’s hard to know which approach will prevail in 2020, but this month’s gubernatorial elections provide a strong point in favor of moderation. Whereas left-wing candidates lost governors’ races in two Southern states last year, candidates with a pragmatic platform and tone won in Kentucky and Louisiana.
Closer to this blog’s home, these elections in North Carolina’s Southern brethren augur well for Roy Cooper. The best chance Dan Forest (or Holly Grange) has to unseat the Tar Heel State’s popular incumbent governor is to harness partisan polarization against him. But Kentucky and Louisiana suggest that it is still possible to separate gubernatorial elections from national politics. As WRAL ably explained in today’s editorial, the state of North Carolina will be well served if Cooper can emulate the examples of Andy Beshear and John Bel Edwards.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.