Tomorrow Kentucky is holding its gubernatorial election for the successor to Democratic governor Steve Beshear, and Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway is narrowly favored by the polling averages. That’s remarkable because Kentucky is a red state that’s arguably trending redder. Presidential races aside (the closest election in this century was in 2000, when Bush won 56/41), Democrats haven’t won a Senate race here since 1992.
At FiveThirtyEight Harry Enten looks at the issue of Senate versus gubernatorial races and their relationship with presidential outcomes in recent years, and deduces that straight-ticket voting is less rigorous in the latter. That makes some sense insofar as governors are chief executives with more distinct public profiles and records, and often state elections turn on somewhat different issues (the whole “coal country” revolt against Democrats hasn’t necessarily spread to the state level).
In this particular case, the candidate profiles could be the most important factor, given Republican Matt Bevin’s well-earned reputation for zany conservatism.
In any event, if Conway wins it will provide Democrats with some badly needed relief from the story-line suggesting they are doomed to perpetual defeat in state-level contests. That this might happen in a non-presidential year makes it even more significant.