In addition to the 2023 local elections across the country, there are some big-ticket elections in several states that could have national ramifications.
This year, Kentucky and Mississippi will hold competitive gubernatorial races, while control of state legislative chambers in Virginia and New Jersey will be on the ballot.
Additionally, special elections for Rhode Island’s First Congressional District and Utah’s Second Congressional District will be held. Democrats are expected to easily win in Rhode Island, while a Republican victory is a safe bet in Utah.
Republicans have started the season with a victory in Louisiana, as Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) won the jungle primary with a majority to flip the seat Republican after eight years of Democratic control.
In Kentucky, moderate Democrat Andy Beshear is up for re-election. After ousting unpopular Governor Matt Bevin (R) in 2019, Beshear has enjoyed decent approval ratings despite governing one of the most Republican states in the country. Historically and ancestrally sympathetic to Democrats, Beshear is by no means a safe bet for a second term, but he will be tough to knock off. Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) is running against Beshear. He is the first Republican to hold the Kentucky Attorney General office since 1943 and the first black man to ever be elected to the office. If he wins in November, he would be Kentucky’s first black governor.
While the race is competitive, Beshear has the edge in virtually all polling. Furthermore, defeating an incumbent with even middling approval ratings is a complicated task, as highly vulnerable Democrats in Kansas and Wisconsin survived the 2022 elections under these exact metrics.
Specific to Kentucky, however, is its polling. Most political analysts understand that polling regularly underestimates Republicans here. Of the forty polls conducted ahead of between 2014 and 2022, all had underestimated the final GOP vote share. However, the scale of the polling is even worse. Enough polls were off to result in an eight-point aggregate miss relative to the final result.
Succinctly, horserace polling in Kentucky has been unreliable at best and severely misleading at worst. Still, we’re inclined to believe Beshear has the leg up in this race due to money and name recognition from his political family. A Cameron upset wouldn’t surprise us, but it would be more surprising than a Beshear win. Forecast: Leans Democrat.
In Mississippi, Governor Tate Reeves (R) is up for re-election after a narrow 2019 against well-known and long-served Attorney General Jim Hood (D). Tate’s likeability issues and several problems during his governance, namely the Jackson water crisis of last year and Medicaid expansion, keep the race competitive against Brandon Presley (D), a member of the Mississippi Public Service Commission and second cousin of the late rock icon Elvis Presley.
While Reeves is by no means a popular governor, he’s not unpopular either, according to polling. Since knocking off an at least decently-approved governor is already an uphill battle, Democrats cashed in a valuable chip last year with Jim Hood, arguably the most well-positioned Democrat to win the election, and he still came up short by five points. Presley just isn’t as well-known or well-liked as Hood, but will still probably keep the race within single-digits. Forecast: Leans Republican.
In Virginia, Republicans are trying to pull off a rare phenomenon: form a trifecta in a state that voted for an opposite-party president.
Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to regain full legislative power against Governor Glenn Youngkin (R), who was elected in a semi-upset in 2021.
Republicans flipped control of the House of Delegates in 2021 and are now hoping to hold it after the decade redraws of both the House and Senate maps alter the political calculus.
Youngkin goes in with strong approval ratings, although that may be tied to a divided government. A major reservation of a Republican trifecta is one of a more conservative agenda without Democratic checks. However, as Democrats point to Joe Biden’s strong showing in most districts, the political wisdom here is that the local GOP frequently runs ahead of the national parties. In 2021, Democrats ran twelve points behind Biden, enough for the GOP to cement a 52-48 edge in the House.
In 2021, Youngkin won a slim majority of the House districts while splitting the Senate seats 20-20 with Terry McAuliffe (D). Of the sixteen seats – ten in the House and six in the Senate – Biden won every single one, but Youngkin won two-thirds of them. This reinforces the philosophy that Republicans will have an easier time holding the House than they will flipping the Senate.
Another statistical wash is that of the national party. While Biden’s approval ratings are worse now than they were in 2021, Democrats have done better – on average – in special elections across the country this year than they did in 2021.
We think that with Virginia’s blue lean having been overstated by national pundits, but with a shifting political environment due to more socially liberal suburban areas, the forecast rests at the House with a rating of Leans Republican and the Senate with a rating of Leans Democrat.
In New Jersey, Republicans only need six seats to take a majority in the State Senate and seven in the General Assembly. While the math is surprisingly small for a blue state, the geography makes it an intense battle for the GOP.
Off the tails of strong local elections in 2021, and shifting Northeastern political messaging, the GOP will probably pick up some seats, but not enough to threaten the majorities in the Garden State.
In the General Assembly, the GOP will probably pick up two seats, one in South Jersey, and the other in the Somerset County region, while in the Senate, the GOP will probably flip one South Jersey seat. Both chambers deserve the forecast of Safe Democrat.