KY and LA Elections Spell Trouble for the GOP

The late-October polling out of the Bluegrass State indicated that Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway is a modest favorite to win the Kentucky gubernatorial election today over Tea Party-favorite Matt Bevin. Maybe that’s not that much of a surprise, but new polling out of Louisiana should definitely be causing some alarm bells to go off at Wingnut Headquarters.

Democrat John Bel Edwards has a 20% lead over Senator David Vitter in the Louisiana Gubernatorial runoff, according to a survey released today by WVLA and JMC Analytics.

The brand new, statewide poll results confirm something that hasn’t happened in 7 years: A Democratic Governor could take office in Louisiana.

Today, WVLA released a survey of 600 likely voters, conducted by JMC analytics. When asked who they’d vote for if the election were held today, 52% of people chose State Representative John Bel Edwards. 32% chose Senator David Vitter, and 16% were undecided.

These numbers are surprising because they show that John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, will pick up more votes from former Republican candidates Scott Angelle and Jay Dardenne than David Vitter, a fellow Republican.

The WVLA poll also asked undecided voters if they had a preference between the two candidates. 54% of them leaned toward John Bel Edwards at this point, while 35% leaned toward David Vitter.

I doubt progressive Democrats will be too excited about the politics of John Bel Edwards, but that’s not really my point here. If he ends David Vitter’s career in a 20-plus percentage point blowout, that’s a pretty damning indictment of Bobby Jindal’s career and of the Republican Party in Louisiana.

Louisiana and Kentucky are among the states that voted twice for Bill Clinton before shifting to George W. Bush in 2000. They’ve been (very) reliably red states ever since. After New Orleans lost much of its black population in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Bayou State became uncompetitive for Democrats. Meanwhile, in Kentucky, President Obama has proven to be immensely unpopular for some reason (I think you know why) even as Democratic Governor Steve Beshear successfully implemented and openly cheer led the Kynect (Obamacare) health care system. It became a source of much mirth that Kentucky voters consistently said that they loved Kynect and hated Obamacare, and the program has been a hot topic in the governors campaign. It appears that the Democrats are getting the better of the argument:

The outgoing Democratic governor of Kentucky, Steve Beshear, used an executive order to expand Medicaid and create a state-run exchange under Obamacare. Half a million people, around a quarter of the state’s population, got coverage as a result.

Democrats have aggressively highlighted this in commercials and on the stump leading up to today’s off-year gubernatorial election, suggesting that the Republicans would “callously” eliminate the exchange if they won. It’s a stark contrast to the defensive posture that Democrats largely took on the issue in the midterm elections of 2010 and 2014.

Kentucky has seen the largest drop in its uninsured rate of any state in the country. It’s currently 9 percent, down from 20.4 percent before Obamacare, according to the Louisville NPR affiliate. Open enrollment for next year began over the weekend, and the Kaiser Family Foundation says there are 285,000 uninsured Kentuckians who could still enroll using the so-called Kynect program.

GOP gubernatorial nominee Matt Bevin has backtracked on repeal since he won a four-way primary in May. In the spring, he said he would “absolutely” reverse Beshear’s executive order “immediately.” In the final debate of the race, he suggested he would narrow eligibility to below 138 percent of the poverty line and try to get participants to have some “skin in the game,” in essence forcing people to pay some kind of deductible.

Now, all if this might seem of completely local interest and unlikely to mean much for the 2016 elections, but Gov. Steve Beshear strongly disagrees:

Polling shows the Medicaid expansion playing to Democrats’ advantage: The final Bluegrass Poll put Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway up 5 points. The Lexington Herald-Leader’s Sam Youngman reported that Bevin’s opposition to the expansion “appears to be hurting him”: 54 percent said they want the state’s next governor to maintain the expansion; 24 percent say they would like to see it repealed; 22 percent were not sure. One-third of Republicans support maintaining the expansion.

For years, Gov. Beshear has publicly urged national Democrats to run on the health care law, regardless of whether they’re from a red or a blue state. “You can tell there’s a pent-up demand and a craving for access to health care,” he said in an interview here. “People came out of the woodwork in droves wanting to find about this. … This is a winner for our people, and because it’s a winner for our people, it’s going to be a winner politically.” Beshear has been publicly attacking Bevin for saying he’d roll back his signature initiative. “He understands that this is now a popular issue for Kentuckians and he’s trying to somehow find a way out of it.”

Expressing confidence that Conway will win today, Beshear told me: “In 2016, I predict the Democratic nominee will make this a major issue and will pound the Republicans into the dust with it.”

So, then the question becomes less about the idiosyncrasies of Kentucky or Louisiana politics and more about whether the rejection of Republicans in very red states is related to broadly applicable policy considerations. It looks like Kentuckians are weighing the health care law heavily in their decision making, and that it’s benefiting the supporters of Obamacare.

To see how that sentiment might be transferable, check out this map:

medicareexpansion

We think we know which states will vote which ways, but this is not a normal election cycle:

…while there’s still plenty of time for an establishment GOP candidate to beat Carson or Trump, Democratic pollster Peter Hart wonders if the 2016 Republican race is shaping up to resemble 1964, when Barry Goldwater won the GOP nomination.

“What if the cake is baked?” Hart asks. “This is not a status-quo electorate.”

The Republicans will try to shrug off the election results in Kentucky today and in Louisiana later in the month, but if things go the way they seem to be going, they may be in a lot more trouble than they want to admit.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.