Election Day is upon us, and voters across the country are set to cast their ballots in a variety of elections – most importantly, the gubernatorial races in Kentucky and Mississippi, the only two on the ballot today. Incumbent Governors are hoping to fend off challengers in both of these strongly Republican states. We’re updating our ratings for both of these elections.
As always, you can follow the election results live as they come in on our website. We’re showcasing election results from Kentucky and Mississippi, as well as legislative elections in Virginia and New Jersey and a slew of other races across the country.
The marquee gubernatorial race of the night is in the Bluegrass State, where incumbent Democrat Andy Beshear faces off against Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron. While Republicans expected this race to be an easy target, Beshear has proven surprisingly durable. Beshear is wildly popular in the state, but has very little power to enact policy; Republicans hold supermajorities in both houses of the legislature. This can actually be a positive for governors like Beshear, however, as it insulates them from the ability to make unpopular decisions.
The Beshear campaign has outspent Cameron. He has led in all but two polls this entire cycle, while Cameron has led in none. Cameron, the protege of Senator Mitch McConnell, has run a strongly negative campaign that has made a dent in Beshear’s lofty approvals, dropping the governor out of the top ten. However, it’s unclear if this is going to be enough to carry him over the top.
Polling seems to have tightened somewhat in recent weeks, which is a positive sign for Republicans. It’s worth noting that polls in Kentucky tend to overstate Democrats. At Decision Desk HQ, our parent site, Brandon Finnigan noted that, in a sample of 40 statewide polls in the final months of elections from 2014 on, 39 of them underestimated the Republican vote share. This should spur a great deal of caution when predicting this race.
We do expect this race to be close – likely very close, in fact. But we’re setting it at Leans Democratic. A good analogue to this race might be Louisiana’s 2019 gubernatorial campaign, where Democrat Jon Bel Edwards won re-election by a margin of just under three percentage points. Like Beshear, Edwards was an extremely popular Governor, which is what enabled him to narrowly overcome Louisiana’s harshly partisan lean. But he did so by a very narrow margin, and the state ultimately flipped Republican again the following cycle once Edwards was termed out. Fundamentally, Governors as popular as Beshear is almost never lose; we’re giving him the benefit of the doubt here.
This is an election we heavily deliberated over, and there is still disagreement among our team internally. Out of an abundance of caution, we’re moving this race from Safe Republican to Likely Republican, but we expect incumbent Republican Tate Reeves to win, and probably by a fairly wide margin. Nonpartisan polls indicate Reeves will win by a margin of anywhere from 8-11 points – roughly the territory that might be considered a “Likely” race call.
Some Democratic internals show a relatively close race, although there are indications these polls aren’t exactly accurate. In particular, a recent Public Policy Polling (PPP) poll showed Reeves up by one with an approval rating of just 33%, far lower than the middle-of-the-road approvals credible nonpartisan polls have shown. We don’t think polls like this are credible, and they weren’t a factor in our rating.
Our shift here is primarily due to reporting on the ground that indicates both sides are taking this race at least somewhat seriously. In order to win, Democrat Brandon Presley would likely need to win at least 20% of Republicans, and black turnout would need to be around 35%. In an inelastic and racially polarized state like Mississippi, we don’t expect either of these to happen. Again, we expect Reeves to win here, and the fundamentals make it extremely difficult for a Democrat to compete, let alone win, but the margin might be closer than expected.