At last, we’ve finished our journey through the 2018 off-year elections. We’ve looked at some vulnerable house seats, looked at ways to preserve as many Senate seats as possible in a very challenging year, and scouted out some primo prospects for perhaps the weakest area for progressives– the 50 gubernatorial mansions. Now we’ve arrived at 2019 and 2020. I’ll begin by looking at the gubernatorial elections set for those two years- before we branch out to the really exciting stuff– taking back some of those seats we lost in 2014 and then looking at winning the presidency.
Starting with the elections in the off-off-year of 2019:
Kentucky: If ever a state shot itself in the foot, this is it. The Bluegrass State had a popular Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, despite being blood red in presidential elections. It had one of the most successful implementations of Obamacare on the state level through the KYnect system. Yet when 2015 rolled around and Beshear’s two terms were up, the state picked Matt Bevin, a Tea Party businessman who had unsuccessfully primaried Mitch McConnell the year before, over former state attorney general Jack Conway. With buyers’ remorse, Bevin started dismantling KYnect and cut benefits in a poor, under-educated state. Well, winter’s coming, Bevin. Last time anybody checked, his approval rating was in the thirties. And Kentucky actually has a shockingly high number of registered Democrats, albeit of the conservative, Southern populist variety. Andy Beshear, the son of the previous governor and current state attorney general, is by far the best candidate. He even sued Bevin over mid-cycle cuts to the university system, and has handily won statewide election.
Louisiana: A perfect Gulf of Mexico storm led to John Bel Edwards becoming governor following the 2015 election in this state. Term-limited incumbent Bobby Jindal had grown unpopular due to state education budget cuts (sensing a pattern?) and his opponent in the general election, David Vitter, was embroiled in a prostitution scandal. Edwards, in contrast, was anti-abortion, critical of Obama in all the ways appropriate for a very red state, and ran on…once again, southern populism. The task is simple- re-elect him.
Mississippi: Oh, Mississippi. Can a state whose public image is still pockmarked by racialized violence and Jim Crow elect a Democratic governor in the post-Obama age? If Trump is unpopular enough, maybe. If the candidate is good enough, maybe. My selection is therefore Brandon Presley, who seems like he was genetically engineered in a laboratory to break the Republican death grip on Mississippi politics. He is popular- having served as a small town mayor and a public service commissioner who helped open up rural parts of the state to internet access. He is a Baptist. He’s young- he’d be only 42 on Election Day, 2019. Oh, and he’s a distant relative of Elvis Presley. With Phil Bryant obliged to leave after one term, Presley might make a race of it in a tough state where voting almost always runs along racialized lines.
And now– the 2020 gubernatorial elections, taking place simultaneously with the presidential and congressional elections.
Vermont and New Hampshire: These two states are the only ones left which vote for their governors every two years (this practice actually used to be the norm in the U.S.!) If both still have their Republican governors in 2020, I’d say let’s change candidates from 2018. Vermont could use David Zuckerman, the current lieutenant governor who is actually a member of the Progressive Party and an organic farmer. For New Hampshire, state senator Dan Feltes would be a strong candidate- he’s young and is an effective legislator from the Concord area. He’s worked as a legal advocate for veterans, the poor, and victims of domestic violence. His bipartisanship and civility make him someone to watch out for in an almost evenly divided state.
Delaware: Since I first started following politics in 2005, Delaware has had a Democratic governor, and he or she has always gotten elected handily. Absent some horrific unforeseen scandal, John Carney should win re-election in a cakewalk.
Indiana: The time has come. The hour has arrived. For Pete Buttigieg, the 30-something mayor of South Bend, the opportunity to enter the national stage is nigh. He’s done amazing things in this Rust Belt town, and his practicality, vision, and military service, give him the profile of what it may take to succeed in Indiana for 21st century progressives. He’s been touted as the next great young Democrat, and it’s time to see if he can make good on that promise.
Missouri: Hillary Clinton’s polling collapse during the final 10 days of the campaign severely hurt the prospects of candidates in red and swing states down-ballot. Chris Koster, the state’s former attorney general, led nearly all polling, but ultimately lost by 5 points. In a different electoral environment, he might very well pull off a victory, but Missouri isn’t getting any bluer.
Montana: Like Delaware, this state has had a Democratic governor since I started following politics- except Montana is very red state in most other respects. While Brian Schweitzer is technically eligible to run again- governors can only serve two consecutive terms- I think the party should go in another direction. Ellie Hill is in her early 40s and is a longtime state legislator from Missoula. She’s extremely social-justice oriented and earlier in her career helped support the Poverello Center to provide food and shelter to Montana’s homeless. Hill is a progressive visionary and has the chance to help make that vision work in the mountain west.
Utah: If the goal is to give the mountain west a choice and not an echo, a question emerges: can a lesbian non-Mormon be elected governor? Let’s find out. Jackie Biskupski is the current mayor of Salt Lake City, and a strong advocate for clean energy. She is also, like Hill, committing to alleviating homelessness.
Washington: The Evergreen State hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 1980- although a few of those elections were disarmingly close. Jay Inslee is hanging it up after two terms in office, leading to an opening for Bob Ferguson. The state attorney general has been a strong consumer advocate and most recently made the news by initiating a challenge to Mr. Trump’s executive order 13769. This triggered the judicial smackdown of the travel ban- and might be enough to make Ferguson a progressive hero in a state increasingly distrustful of establishment politicians. As a noted chess master, Ferguson plays the long game.
So these are my gubernatorial picks. I’m not totally happy with them- only two women and no persons of colour- but each one is capable and can push their respective states in a healthier direction. Next time? Let’s take back the Senate in 2020.