By Gregory Korte
The losses were largely attributable to local forces. Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin was deeply unpopular and other GOP officeholders did fairly well in the state, home to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Virginia Republicans entered the election with only a one-seat margin in each chamber in a state that has become more closely contested in presidential elections.
With one year until the presidential election, impeachment proceedings in Congress and the Democratic nomination battle just beginning, experts say Tuesday’s results have little predictive value for the 2020 election.
“It’s just too far out, and we don’t know what the circumstances will be next year,” said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
Trump campaigned aggressively for the Republican gubernatorial candidates, flying to Tupelo, Mississippi, last Friday to campaign for Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, who won the governorship, and led a rally in Lexington, Kentucky, on Monday for Bevin.
“If they lose they’re going to say Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world. You can’t let that happen to me,” Trump told the audience in Kentucky.
He clearly had an eye on election results Tuesday night, tweeting his congratulations to Kentucky Attorney General candidate Daniel Cameron, a Republican who became the first African-American elected as the state’s chief law enforcement officer. “Great going Daniel, proud of you!” Trump wrote.
Trump also boasted on Twitter of winning “5 out of 6 elections in Kentucky, including five great candidates that I spoke for and introduced last night.”
Bevin trailed Democratic challenger, Attorney General Andy Beshear by 4,000 votes in unofficial results. Beshear claimed victory, but the Associated Press said it was too close to call.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez used the same metaphor earlier Tuesday to predict Bevin’s loss and tie it to Trump.
“It’s pretty amazing won Kentucky by 30 points and he had to go there last night to try to drag Matt Bevin across the finish line,” Perez told Bloomberg Television.
Democratic 2020 front-runner Joe Biden, who attended get-out-the-vote efforts in Virginia on Monday, said GOP candidates there avoided being tied to Trump.
“Virginians were not fooled by Republicans who spent the campaign pretending they’re moderate, pretending they’re for health care, pretending they’re for sensible gun regulations, pretending they don’t even know who Donald Trump is,” Biden said in a statement issued by his campaign.
Bevin tied his fate to Trump, and once proudly cited among his accomplishments the fact that Kentucky was the first state to be called for Trump in 2016 -- which was mostly a function of its early poll closing times. And earlier Tuesday, he urged Kentuckians to “send a loud and clear message to America” that they stand proudly with the president.
It’s perceived as a deeply conservative state: Kentucky has voted Republican in presidential elections since 2000, and has had two Republican senators since 1998.
But that streak belies a much more competitive political landscape, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans and 13 of the last 16 governors have been Democrats.
So Tuesday’s results may not mean as much for Trump as they appear. “Given that Republicans did well in all the other statewide races there, I view this more as a repudiation of Bevin than anything else,” Kondik said.
In Kentucky and elsewhere, state races have become more nationalized over time -- with candidates campaigning on national issues and tying themselves and their opponents to national politicians.
But it’s unclear whether off-year state elections can predict national sentiment when the president isn’t on the ballot, so any political damage to Trump is likely to be short term.
In fact, one study shows that winning a governor’s race can sometimes hurt a political party in the next presidential election.
His theory: Voters were balancing their votes, either consciously or unconsciously, so that one party doesn’t hold too much power.
In Mississippi, Reeves was declared the winner over Democrat Jim Hood for that state’s governor’s mansion. “Great Going Tate!” the president tweeted early Wednesday.
In New Jersey, Democrats sought to hold on to their super-majority in the State Assembly.
Trump’s not done campaigning this year.
He’ll travel to Monroe, Louisiana, on Wednesday to support Republican Eddie Rispone against incumbent Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards. Neither candidate received a majority in Louisiana’s non-partisan primary last month, so they’ll compete in a runoff Nov. 16.