Elvis’s cousin has left the building.
In case you missed it, yesterday was Election Day — in some states at least. Mississippi was one of the places where voters went to the polls and in that state, voters rejected a bid by Brandon Presley, Elvis Presley’s second cousin, to become governor.
More on that race, and others, below as we take a look at what happened yesterday and what it might signal about Election 2024.
A Trio Of Governors’ Races
There were three governorships on the ballot in 2023: the race in Mississippi referenced above, a race in Kentucky that also was decided yesterday, and an election in Louisiana that was decided back in October.
Republicans won two of these three contests: Louisiana and Mississippi. These outcomes are, perhaps, not that surprising since voters in these states voted overwhelmingly for former President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential race and, in general, these states are reliably “red.” Additionally, no Democrat has lived in Mississippi’s governor’s mansion in more than 20 years and the Republicans hold all statewide offices and a wide majority in the state legislature.
Still, in Mississippi, Brandon Presley (D), a state utility regulator, raised more money than incumbent Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican. The margin was not even close, in fact. Reeves raised just $6.3 million to Presley’s $11.3 million. Additionally, a Morning Consult survey right before the election found Reeves’s approval ratings were underwater. Just 46 percent of voters approved of his job as governor going into the election, including 16 percent of Democrats, 38 percent of independents, and 76 percent of Republicans. Reeves won all the same.
The Associated Press said Reeves prevailed not by focusing on endorsements by out-of-state Republicans but by highlighting his record of success, which includes “job creation, low unemployment and improvements in education” and by casting “Presley as a liberal backed by out-of-state donors who were out of step with Mississippi.”
The other Republican bright spot was in Louisiana where, back in October, Republican Jeff Landry won control of the state’s executive branch. As Politico explained at the time, the win was somewhat of a surprise for two reasons: Democrats held the seat already (the incumbent was term-limited), and Landry was running against only one well-known Democrat — and a slew of Republicans.
Louisiana holds its elections in two stages, if necessary. There is an initial race with multiple candidates on the ballot. If no single person earns at least 50 percent of the vote in that contest, there is a run-off between the top two vote getters (no matter their party). In October, Landry was expected to split the vote between Republicans while Democrat Shawn Wilson was expected to capture most of the vote for his party’s faithful.
Instead, Wilson only won 26 percent of all votes cast to Landry’s 52 percent. Republicans hailed this outcome as a major win and a harbinger of what could come in 2024.
But that was before they saw the results in yesterday’s gubernatorial contest in Kentucky, where the Democratic candidate prevailed over a well-connected Republican who currently holds statewide office. As a reminder, Kentucky is a reliably, deep red state. In 2020, 62 percent of Kentucky voters pulled the lever for former President Trump while only 36 percent voted for current President Joe Biden.
To be sure, however, the Democrat on the ballot in Kentucky was an incumbent, and, traditionally, it is more difficult to oust a sitting policymaker. Gov. Andy Beshear has been governor of the conservative state since he was first elected in 2019. According to Morning Consult’s popularity list of U.S. governors, he is very well liked, even by Republicans. In fact, more than 50 percent of GOP voters said they approve of the job Gov. Beshear is doing.
That sentiment showed last night. Gov. Beshear not only earned much more of the Kentucky vote than President Biden did in 2020, he won a larger share of the vote than he did when he was first elected in 2019. Not bad considering former President Trump endorsed Gov. Beshear’s opponent, sitting state Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who also is a close ally of U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
The Kentucky race could be a bellwether for next year. As CNN reporters noted, the Kentucky governor’s race has predicted the winner of the next presidential election in the last five presidential cycles.
This metric is not the only one Democrats have going for them, however.
Down-Ballot Races Fall In Democrats’ Favor
Perhaps the biggest down-ballot race yesterday was the fight for control of both houses of Virginia’s legislature where all 100 seats in the House of Delegates (the lower chamber) and 40 state senate seats were up for grabs. Going into election day, Democrats held a 22-18 edge in the senate and Republicans had an 52-48 advantage in the House of Delegates.
After turning the Virginia’s governor’s mansion (and the lower chamber of the state legislature) red two years ago, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) was not able to pull his party over the finish line yesterday. Democrats took back the lower chamber and held the state senate. Specifically, in the state Senate, as of this writing, Democrats have won 21 seats to Republicans’ 17. Two state senate races still have not been called. Democrats now hold 51 seats in the lower chamber to Republicans’ 47 seats. Two races still have not been called in the House of Delegates as well.
Even scandals did not seem to set back Democrats in Virginia. As Politico noted, Democratic General Assembly candidate Susanna Gibson, “who was written off after a sex tape scandal,” almost won her race, losing by less than 1,000 votes.
Politico outlined several other signs of Democratic strength going into 2024, including:
Pennsylvania, where Democrat Dan McCaffery won an open seat on the state Supreme Court, giving Dems a 5-2 majority;
New Jersey, where Democrats expanded their majority in the General Assembly by five seats while holding their Senate majority;
Indianapolis, Ind., where Joe Hogsett won a third term as mayor over a well-funded Republican challenger; and
Houston, Texas, where two Democrats, State Sen. John Whitmire and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, are headed toward a runoff in the city’s mayor’s race.
If Republicans are looking for bright spots, there may be two.
In Allegheny, Penn., which is just outside of Pittsburgh, current District Attorney Stephen Zappala, who ran as a Republican, defeated his Democratic challenger even though the county voted for a Democrat as its chief executive. There is a caveat in this race, however: up until a few months ago, Zappala was Democrat. He switched parties after losing that party’s primary to Dugan. Yesterday, Politico noted, “Zappala has already drawn connections between Dugan’s vision and other cities with higher crime rates, like San Francisco and Los Angeles — both of which elected progressive prosecutors in recent years.”
The GOP down-ballot bright spot is in Broome County, N.Y. where Republican Paul Battisti bested Democrat Matt Ryan in a race for county attorney general. As Politico noted, both men have backgrounds as defense attorneys, but Ryan “called for addressing the root causes of crime, rather than just prosecuting offenders” while Battisti promised to be tougher on crime.
The takeaway? Focusing on crime might be a winning bet for down-ballot Republicans in 2024.
What Do Yesterday’s Results Say About 2024?
As we wrote in last week’s blog post, voter enthusiasm — unsurprisingly — equals key voter turnout.
Democrats won the excitement battle yesterday. As The Hill said, “Democrats benefitted from high turnout in Tuesday’s off-year elections. This was evident in the red states of Ohio and Kentucky, where Democrats turned out in high numbers.”
Virginia Democrats also were enthusiastic. The Hill noted, “Election Day turnout at one precinct in Henrico County in the greater Richmond area reached 1,200 people by the middle of the day. There are over 3,200 people registered to vote at that precinct and 800 people cast their ballots during the early voting period.”
While Democrats were eager to vote yesterday, that excitement may not translate to 2024, The Hill warns. The Capitol Hill newspaper noted President Biden did not campaign in any of the 2023 voting states and, of course, he was not on the ballot. The fact that President Biden was a nonfactor may not say much about an election where he will be Democrats’ standard-bearer, The Hill concluded.
Politico had a different take, arguing Gov. Beshear’s win may indicate President Biden’s low approval ratings may not be a huge factor next year. Politico noted Kentucky Republicans tried relentlessly to tie Gov. Beshear to President Biden, but, as of this writing, the incumbent governor is up in the vote count by six points.
Gov. Beshear already has offered conclusions about how he won as a Democrat in a reliably Republican state. He said his victory sends “a message that candidates should run for something and not against someone.”
Is the recipe for a 2024 win be to stick to the issues and outline a positive plan for the country?
We’ll find out soon enough. Because with Election 2023 now behind us, the 2024 races have begun in earnest.