The Kentucky Political Derby, (Not!) – “The Sunday Political Brunch” November 10, 2019

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – We tend to cover politics like it’s a horse race, and often it is. So, it was only fitting that we would have a photo finish in the "Kentucky Derby State.” Incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin (R) Kentucky, is some five-thousand votes behind Attorney General Andy Beshear (D) Kentucky, and may in fact lose the governor’s mansion. Many of my national political analyst colleagues are calling this a bellwether for the end of President Trump. But it isn’t by any stretch. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Kentucky Reign” – I think it’s reasonable to assume Democrat Andy Beshear is the next Governor of Kentucky. Congrats to him and his family, as his dad was a two-term Kentucky Governor. But, is this the death of President Trump’s reelection bid? No. The governor’s race may in fact be an anomaly, because Republicans took every other competitive race in the state from Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, etc., all the way down to county dog catcher. So, for network analysts to suggest the Bluegrass State is in play in 2020, and might flip blue, is almost laughable. Trump carried the state by 30 percentage points in 2016. Still, he campaigned in Kentucky with Bevin the night before the vote, and it didn’t work.

“Why is That?” – There is a phenomenon known as “avoidance reaction,” which is essentially fleeing something or someone who turns you off. In Kentucky, Matt Bevin had a low approval rating. Many felt he picked the wrong side in a statewide teacher’s strike last year, and was wrong on the issue of LGBTQ rights. The fact that all other major statewide offices in Kentucky went Republican, tells you that the vote to oust Bevin was a vote against him, not a vote against Trump. My prediction: Kentucky stays solidly red in 2020.

“A Yellow Caution Light” – Given what I just said, I caution that Republicans should not be arrogant and assume all things are thumbs-up for Trump in Kentucky in 2020. On Wednesday morning, after the election, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) Kentucky suddenly and finally gave his blessing to a bipartisan bill to save and protect the pensions of 100,000 current and retired coal miners and widows. McConnell has blocked this legislation for years, but suddenly did an about-face.

“All Politics is Local” -- I interviewed one of the miner’s pension bill’s co-sponsors, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R) West Virginia, and she said, “You know there are eight thousand miners in Kentucky that are impacted by the possibility of losing their pensions. And I’ve been working on Senator McConnell.” With the GOP holding a thin 53-47 margin in the U.S. Senate, (and Republicans defending more than twice as many Senate seats as Democrats in 2020), McConnell may be worried about losing his majority, and his leadership post.

“Virginia May Be the Cookie-Cutter” – I have said it dozens of times over the years in this column: “Political movements happen from the bottom up; not from the top down.” We pay too much attention to races for president and governor in trying to look for trends. That’s a mistake. The most important thing to look at are city councils, state legislatures, and yes, Congress. The State of Virginia was strongly controlled by Democrats for decades, until the 1990s when Republicans began to gain control of both houses of the legislature and occasionally the governor’s mansion, too. Well, as of election 2019, Democrats have now gained control of both the House of Delegates and State Senate, in addition to the governor’s mansion. A once solidly red state has turned blue.

“The Mississippi Political River” – While most of the nation and media were focused on the outcomes in Kentucky and Virginia, Mississippi was holding an election, too, for an open seat in the governor’s mansion. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) Mississippi, beat Attorney General Jim Hood (D) Mississippi, 52 to 47 percent. Mississippi, a solidly red state, is unlikely to flip in 2020.

“What’s Old is New Again” – Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has launched a comeback bid to win his old U.S. Senate seat in Alabama. Sessions was the first Senator to endorse Donald Trump’s campaign for president in 2016. He was rewarded with a “Top Four” cabinet seat, but in his role as AG he quickly angered President Trump by recusing himself from the Russia investigation and appointing Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Trump fired Sessions a year ago, but now may need his help. Sessions could unseat Sen. Doug Jones (D) Alabama, perhaps the most vulnerable Senate Democrat in 2020. Will Trump and Sessions “kiss and make up?” Stay tuned, as politics often makes for strange bedfellows!

“What’s Trending?” – Since President Trump was elected in 2016, there have been 17 special elections for Congressional seats. Republicans held nine of their seats, while Democrats held four where they were incumbents. Democrats gained five seats that had been held by Republicans. But the GOP gained no seats from Democrats in places where they already held the seat. There is not much of a trend here to prognosticate forward. The bottom line, the incumbent party won 76 percent of the time.

What’s your prediction for the 2020 Senate races, and will Democrats seize control of the upper chamber of Congress? Just click the comment button!

Mark Curtis, Ed. D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five neighboring states and most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He is a National Contributing Political Writer for “The White House Patch” at www.Patch.com.

© 2019, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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