Will Democrats surge in the South? What to watch on Tuesday

Politics

Andy Beshear and Governor Matt Bevin greet each other before the final Kentucky gubernatorial debate between incumbent Republican Matt Bevin and Democratic candidate Andy Beshear on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019 in Highland Heights, Ky. (Albert Cesare/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP, Pool)

NEW YORK (AP) — While much of the political world is focused on 2020, a handful of states are hosting off-year elections on Tuesday. The stakes are high in the local races, but there are significant national implications as well. President Donald Trump has invested time and energy into gubernatorial races in Kentucky and Mississippi, where Democrats believe they have rare pickup opportunities in the deep-red South. At the same time, Virginia Republicans could lose their narrow majorities in the state house, which would represent a serious warning to Republicans everywhere heading into 2020.

Here are the top storylines to watch:

WILL REPUBLICANS HIT ROCK BOTTOM IN THE SUBURBS?

Virginia Democrats need to pick up just a handful of seats to seize control of their state House of Delegates and Senate for the first time in more than two decades. The races to watch are set in the suburbs, where shifting demographics and Trump’s unpopularity have transformed reliably red, leafy cul-de-sacs into fiery political battlegrounds. Beyond Virginia, Democrats need strong support from suburban voters in Mississippi and Kentucky if they hope to win those governorships as well. Even modest gains for Democrats in the suburbs would spark pangs of anxiety for Republicans up and down the ballot heading into the next election cycle.

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CAN TRUMP DRAG BEVIN TO VICTORY?

Perhaps more than any other candidate on Tuesday, Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s fate is tied to Trump. The first-term governor has welcomed a parade of Trump-world figures, including Trump himself, to the state to energize his sputtering campaign. Bevin needs the help. His aggressive brand of politics has proved deeply unpopular, despite the state’s strong Republican leanings and healthy economy. At one point, national polling suggested he was the most unpopular governor in the nation. That has given Democrat Andy Beshear a legitimate chance to win. The race is considered a true tossup. If Bevin survives, it’ll be because Trump dragged him across the finish line.

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WILL IMPEACHMENT BACKFIRE ON DEMOCRATS?

Governors and state lawmakers have no vote on Trump’s impeachment, but the issue may as well be on Tuesday’s ballot. At least, that’s what Republicans are saying. The GOP has aggressively tried to link local Democrats to the national party’s impeachment push, which is considered widely unpopular across Mississippi, Kentucky and parts of Virginia. Democratic candidates have struggled to answer questions about the issue, while Republicans have increasingly seized on impeachment on the campaign trail and in their advertising. Should Republicans have a good day, they’ll almost certainly credit the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. Heading into 2020, moderate Democrats and Republicans across the country will be paying close attention.

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WILL MINORITY VOTERS SHOW UP?

It’s no secret that minority voters could transform Southern politics if they showed up to vote in large numbers. Don’t forget that African American women, in particular, were credited with fueling Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones’ special election victory in 2017. If Democrats have a good night on Tuesday, especially in Mississippi, it’ll be because of the same dynamic. Nearly 38% of the state’s population is black, which is the highest in the nation. The complication? Mississippi Democrats are running state Attorney General Jim Hood, an older white man with moderate policy positions, hardly an inspiring figure for disenfranchised minorities. Democrats are betting big that opposition to Trump will be motivation enough.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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