Given all the attention being paid to the slowly unfolding 2016 political contests, it’s easy to forget there are off-year gubernatorial elections in three states this year: Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana. Incumbent Republican Gov. Phil Bryant appears to be a shoe-in in MS. GOP gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin has attracted a lot of dubious attention to himself in bear-hugging Kim Davis in KY, where he is probably an underdog against Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway. And most surprisingly, in LA, U.S. Senator David Vitter is showing signs of vulnerability in his once-invincible effort to succeed the wildly unpopular Bobby Jindal.
A new PPP survey of the Pelican State shows Vitter with an underwater 34/51 approval ratio. Vitter is also running a close second to Democratic state legislator John Bel Edwards (no relation to Edwin Edwards!) in what is essentially a four-candidate field for the October 24 “jungle primary.” But worse yet, even though the other two candidates are Republicans, Vitter trails Edwards in a hypothetical November 21 runoff 38/50.
Aside from Vitter’s personal problems (Louisianans have not forgotten his admitted patronage of prostitutes, and the hypocrisy it involved), Louisiana Republicans have lost whatever unity habits they used to enjoy, in no small part thanks to Jindal, whose disdain for his entire state has been less and less hidden as he’s focused on running for president. And thus even though nobody’s running on Bobby’s record, the overtly centrist Edwards is tarring all the GOP candidates as representing a third Jindal term.
Totally aside from the implications of these elections for the states involved, the offyear elections will help form the media framing for 2016, which right now seems likely to pose the cycle as a GOP effort to consummate the conquest of American politics already completed at the state level. If two red states elect Democratic governors this year, as seems entirely possible right now, that pat narrative will get a bit harder to lift from the ground no matter how many hot air balloons are attached.