More than a Few Thoughts on 2019 Elections

Did last night provide any good read on 2020?

Publisher’s Notes

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Recent prognostication on major gubernatorial races taking place in Kentucky and Mississippi predictably focused on just how influential President Trump’s presence is as he and his political network (including Vice President Mike Pence) stumps through these states. There was quite a bit of mainstream analysis about “suburban” votes or what’s on the minds of White 2016 Trump voters Democrats keep salivating to convert versus simply energizing the base they’ve got. People also want to know: is the impeachment process making Trump politically weaker? What does this say about 2020? And: was there any indication, for Democrats, that a focus on issues work versus a focus on Trump?

Some interesting state and local races also took place in Virginia, Philadelphia, and Houston. Quick notes below:

Kentucky

  • The loss of incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin (R-KY) to Democratic challenger Andy Beshear is directly correlated to Bevin’s over-the-top efforts to completely dismantle the Affordable Care Act in his state. Clearly, that policy move rubbed a lot of Kentuckians the wrong way. What’s interesting, and a sort of elephant in the room, is this: if a Republican in a major red state lost because of backlash to Trump-aligned hostility to the ACA, a legacy President Obama achievement, why exactly are Democrats in the 2020 presidential primary pushing so hard for something else called “Medicare for All?” Why reinvent the wheel when you can gain support for, fix and improve the one you’ve got?

  • Republicans still won other crucial statewide seats such as Attorney General and Secretary of State. MAGA Kanye West doppelganger Daniel Cameron (R) took the AG spot and, predictably, Republicans nationwide will be quick to point to that as living proof they aren’t “racist.”

  • Is this really that big of an embarrassment for Trump? Most will say “yes” - but, Republicans still won other crucial statewide seats and there’s still no clear plan on how Democrats will unseat the real prize in that state: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R). Republicans unseated Democrats’ Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle back in 2004, so why can’t Democrats do the same thing?

  • Lastly: Beshear’s victory could also mean the restoration of voting rights for 300,000 Kentuckians who are convicted felons. That’s also the big news of that night.

Mississippi

  • Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves soundly defeated Democratic challenger and AG Jim Hood by nearly 6 percentage points. Hood really didn’t differentiate himself from Reeves and the race boiled down to which White guy had the most guns, drove the biggest pickup truck and went out hunting with his redneck friends the most.

  • Many observers are correct and quick to point out that Jim Crow-era electoral laws still in place in that state make fair, legal and accessible voting very problematic for a state that is 40 percent Black. Candidates must do two things1) win both a majority popular vote and 2) win a majority of the state’s House districts.

  • Still: Reeves clearly won a good bit of the popular vote in that state.

  • But, the untold story is Democrats failure to motivate or mobilize existing Black voters in Mississippi or find eligible Black residents to register and turnout. Here we have, yet again, another big Mississippi statewide race in a state that’s 40 percent Black … and the Black voters get written off. Hence, while concerns about the state’s legacy of voter suppression are clearly valid, Democrats need to stop using that to explain away their inability or unwillingness to activate what could be a very powerful Black electorate. Poll taxing didn’t stop Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers and others from doing what they had to do. What’s the difference now?

Virginia

  • Democrats now have control of all of Richmond: the Governor’s office, the state House and the state Senate. That’s a first since 1993.

  • Key note: in 1993, Virginia’s first Black governor, and the first elected Black governor in U.S. history, was in control at that time.

  • Other key note: no one will say anything about that.

  • Bigger note: Democrats pummeled Republicans last night in a state where the current Democratic governor Ralph Northam was, just earlier this year, embattled by “blackface” photos and the current Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, who is Black and was once a rising political star, is still fending off sexual assault allegations. Voters, however, are that exhausted from Republicans, apparently.

  • Again: Democrats will ignore the key role of Black voters in a state that is nearly a quarter Black, and is growing more diverse with higher shares of Latino, Asian and Arab voters. The narrative will still focus on “what did White suburban voters do? How can we convert MAGA folks?”

Philadelphia

  • Philly clearly has a political machine problem. Despite escalating and record gun violence, serious environmental justice issues, mounting public health and poverty challenges, along with a negligent school system plagued by sick buildings and bad performance metrics, Philly still elected its incumbent Mayor to a 2nd term.

  • Turnout was still an anemic 26 percent. That might be above 2015 levels, but that’s abysmal for a city with nearly 1.1 million registered voters.

  • With just a little under 283,000 voters turning out, just under 18 percent of the city’s population of 1.6 million are making decisions for everyone else - when nearly 69 percent of city residents are, apparently, registered to vote.

  • It took city election officials longer to tabulate votes last night, because of glitches with brand new voting machines, than it took for them to suspiciously procure those same voting machines.

  • The City Commissioners’ office, which oversees elections, change 89 polling locations throughout Philly … only several days before the election took place … & didn’t really tell anyone. So, there’s that.

  • There were signs of a little shake-up as newly formed Working Families Party candidate Kendra Brooks - who received a controversial endorsement from Councilwoman-at-Large Helen Gym (D) - ousted a Republican from City Council. The old school Democratic machine is fuming about that.

  • Still, old school curmudgeon Philly Democratic machine remains in place with low turnout and a depressed, jaded electorate in a city that’s about 45 percent Black.

Houston

  • Post-Hurricane Harvey Houston had a Mayor’s race last night.

  • The current Mayor, Sylvester Turner is a Democrat who is Black and who led the city through that destructive hurricane. He just got forced into a December 14th runoff against a self-funding non-party candidate, Tony Buzbee, who is White.

  • Houston is about 25 percent Black and it has one of the highest big city poverty rates in the country. We’ll be keeping an eye on this one.

New York City

  • Observers are excited about New York City voters approving what’s called “ranked-choice voting” during a ballot initiative yesterday.

  • This is what ranked-choice voting means: instead of picking your favorite candidate, you pick or rank your top five candidates by order of preference

  • Other breaking news: Most Americans still have absolutely no idea what ranked-choice voting is.

Key Quote

This quote from Philly Inquirer probably best captures the national electoral mood heading into 2020 at the moment …

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