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Before we get to 2016, there’s some housekeeping to attend to. Specifically, three gubernatorial contests on tap for later this year. The states in play: Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Will they offer any windows into the health of the two parties? Let’s take a quick look at each one.
1) Kentucky. The state synonymous with horse racing has the inside track on the nastiest race so far. A college girlfriend says one-time GOP frontrunner and state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer abused her. That, in turn, raised questions as to fellow Republican Hal Heiner’s campaign tactics. How ugly has the GOP fight become? At one point, Comer called Heiner “the Christian Laettner of Kentucky politics.” Why that hurts so badly in Wildcat Nation:
Ok, back to politics. Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, a Democrat, is ineligible to run due to term limits. The contest thus becomes a litmus test of his party’s ability to win in the South. Bill Clinton twice carried the Bluegrass State by a sliver (each time under 4%); Barack Obama twice lost it by 16% or more. Speaking of Obama, it’s how Obamacare factors into the 2015 vote that’s worth watching. Beshear’s a staunch defender of the law. Attorney General Jack Conway, who’s looking to succeed Beshear, has to walk the fine line of siding with a Democratic president who’s wildly unpopular but a signature law that isn’t — a trick that Alison Lundergan Grimes couldn’t master last fall.
2) Louisiana. This one isn’t as complicated, though there is the oddity known as the jungle primary. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco served as the state’s governor from 2004-2008. Her successor, the term-limited Bobby Jindal (expected to join the ever-expanding GOP presidential field), twice was elected without the need for a runoff (under Louisiana law, the election’s over if the primary’s top vote-getter clears 50%). In the state that once gave America a governor who uttered the immortal words “the only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy,” keep an eye on Senator David Vitter. He’s the GOP frontrunner despite a past connection to a D.C. sex scandal. Here’s Vitter on the issues — not always with Jindal. Vitter has money and establishment connections — and maybe the year’s best endorsement: the state’s treasurer likening him to “a cross between Socrates and Dirty Harry.”
3) Mississippi. Immediately to the east of Louisiana, with a Republican governor seeking reelection. A late April Mason-Dixon poll gives Phil Bryant a 61%-30% lead over Democrat Vicki Slater. He also has a 72% approval rating — not too shabby considering the poll was 52% Democrats and independents (maybe it’s the governor’s shiny black boots bearing the state’s seal that make for the crossover appeal). Bryant recently took a big swing at Common Core (seen by some as his way of making up with Tea Party activists for supporting the more establishment Senator Thad Cochran in last year’s election).
And if all three races go Republican? That would push the total of GOP governors to 32 in what has become a “red wall” across America.
Second, it has an effect on the parties’ presidential fortunes. A look at the current GOP field shows at least eight past or president Republican governors looking at the White House (some more seriously than others) — Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Jindal, George Pataki, Rick Perry, and Scott Walker.
On the Democratic side: just former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. So much for a state bench.
Should Hillary Clinton lose in 2016, the Democratic governor most likely to step forward as did her husband in 1992? Here’s a montage of the 18 current Democrat governors (Alaska Governor Bill Walker’s an independent, in case you’re wondering why the math doesn’t add up).
See if you can find a national winner in the bunch.