Lessons from Kentucky, Mississippi and Virginia elections may not be what you think

Results from 2019 offer some clues about what may work and not work in 2020

President Donald Trump rallied Monday night in Lexington with Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, who appears to have lost his reelection bid. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump rallied Monday night in Lexington with Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, who appears to have lost his reelection bid. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
Posted November 6, 2019 at 6:44am

ANALYSIS — Voters in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Virginia were gracious enough to go to the polls on Tuesday and give us some tangible results to chew over with 12 months to go before the 2020 elections. Here are some thoughts.

Kentucky was not an upset. Inside Elections changed its rating on the governor’s race from Lean Republican to Toss-up in mid July after finding Gov. Matt Bevin very vulnerable. So those who were surprised by Democrat Andy Beshear’s declared victory weren’t paying close enough attention.

Trump was an asset, not a liability. Without a last-minute push and visit from President Donald Trump, Bevin would have probably lost by a wider margin. The decision to urge Kentucky voters to see their ballots as sending a message to the nation as a whole was the right strategy for the governor and Republicans. It just wasn’t enough to solve Bevin’s problems.

Impeachment isn’t the silver bullet for Republicans. Complaining about the impeachment process might galvanize the GOP base, but Kentucky showed there’s a limit, and Republicans can’t rely on it as a cure-all.

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Bevin clearly had a unique problem. Republicans won the five other statewide offices, four of them by more than a dozen points. Tuesday’s results doesn’t tell us much about how the state will vote in 2020, when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is up for reelection.

Transformation of Virginia is complete. Just more than a dozen years ago, Virginia had two Republican U.S. senators. Now, Republicans are just trying to field a credible challenger against Sen. Mark Warner and Democrats have full control of the commonwealth at the state and federal level after winning majorities in the Legislature. A pretty remarkable political turnaround.

Suburbs continue to be a problem for Republicans. Tuesday’s results continued to demonstrate GOP problems in the suburbs since Trump took office. The latest was in northern Kentucky in the Cincinnati suburbs, where Bevin won in 2015 and Beshear won in 2019. Or in northern Mississippi, in the Memphis suburbs where the GOP margin in DeSoto County dropped from 61 points to 20 points, according to Ryan Matsumoto, a contributing analyst to Inside Elections. These are just the latest pieces of evidence after Democrat Dan McCready’s overperformance in the Charlotte suburbs from 2018 to the 2019 special election in North Carolina’s 9th District. It should be particularly concerning for President Trump in his efforts to win Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, and Texas in 2020.

Mississippi is a red state. State Attorney General Jim Hood was viewed as the strongest possible Democratic candidate. He lost by 5 points.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst for CQ Roll Call.