Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Downballot 2015 Race Ratings for Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi

Democracy never sleeps—even when the voters do. This year may be an off year for elections, but the pundits are still tracking the three gubernatorial races that will take place in fall 2015: in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi. But those states are electing way more than just governors—that's where I come in.

As it was last year, this blog will be the only place on the internet to go for handicapping this cycle's constitutional-officer elections. Per Baseballot's handy quick-reference guide to downballot politics, the 2015 ballot will feature two (separately-elected-from-the-governor) lieutenant governors, three attorneys general, three secretaries of state, three treasurers, two auditors, three agriculture commissioners, and two insurance commissioners. A lot fewer of those will be actual competitive races, but to determine that we have to look at the ratings, now don't we?

Things don't look good for Democrats (though in fairness, these are three fairly conservative states). The party stands to lose the few seats it has, whereas Republicans' seats are relatively safe. There are no "solid Democratic" constitutional offices on the ballot this year, whereas I judge there are 11 that are safe for Republicans. It could be particularly bad for Democrats if things just go a little bit wrong in Kentucky. Here's the state-by-state breakdown:


All six races (counting the governor's race) in Kentucky are closely linked, and all six are closely contested. As we learned in 2014, the final result of the top-of-the-ticket race can carry all the downballot results along with it. As such, like KY-GOV, all Kentucky constitutional offices could go either way.
  • Attorney General: Polls agree that Democrats are in the best shape in the attorney general's race, thanks mostly to the B-word: Beshear. Relative to the other Democrats on the statewide ballot, the popular governor's son Andy consistently leads by the most over, or trails by the least to, GOP State Senator Whitney Westerfield. You can also count on him winning the money battle.
  • Secretary of State: What rhymes with Alison Lundergan Grimes? A rising star in her prime. Poll numbers on the climb. Republican opponent Steve Knipper can't raise a dime. But she may have high negatives from running for US Senate that one time.
  • Treasurer: This is the epitome of a race that will break with the top of the ticket. Polls have indicated lots of undecideds between Democrat Rick Nelson and Republican Allison Ball.
  • Auditor: Another fairly generic contest with high undecideds in polls—but, unlike treasurer, this race has an incumbent in Democrat Adam Edelen. The party has high hopes for Edelen, who looks poised to take on Rand Paul next year for Senate.
  • Commissioner of Agriculture: For whatever reason, Republicans have historically done well for this office in not only Kentucky (winning the last three elections) but also nationally (holding 11 of the 12 elected agriculture commissionerships). In keeping with the trend, polls suggest candidate State Rep. Ryan Quarles has the strongest advantage of any statewide Republican contender over the inexperienced Democrat, Jean-Marie Lawson Spann.


Louisiana's jungle primary means that nominees for each party haven't been chosen yet—and, in fact, will never be chosen, as the top two finishers in the October 24 preliminary election advance to the November 21 runoff regardless of party affiliation. You'd think that not knowing the candidates would make these contests harder to forecast, but actually, in terms of party control (read: the inevitability of Republican wins), they're unlikely to make a difference.
  • Lieutenant Governor: The African American, Democratic mayor of Baton Rouge, Kip Holden, starts with a strong base of support—but the three Republican candidates in the race combined are likely to pull a strong majority. Whether Republican Billy Nungesser or John Young makes the runoff with Holden, they'll probably be favored, but Holden is probably the strongest Democrat on the statewide ballot this year, and that ain't nothing.
  • Attorney General: Incumbent Buddy Caldwell has only been a Republican for four years, switching parties during his first term as AG, and many "real" Republicans complain that he never stopped being a Democrat. That's earned him a strong, state-GOP-supported challenge from faithful conservative Jeff Landry (you might remember him as the former congressman ousted in 2012 in a redistricting-inspired primary). With only two minor Democrats in the running, it would be a shocker if the runoff isn't between Landry and Caldwell, who would become the de facto Democrat in November.
  • Secretary of State: This one will be decided on October 24 one way or another. Democrat Chris Tyson is Republican incumbent Tom Schedler's only competition, and barring shockingly high Democratic turnout in the preliminary, Schedler will win his second full term.
  • Treasurer: Republican John Neely Kennedy is in his fourth term as state treasurer, which should be enough to wrap up the 2015 election—but he also drew only one stray opponent, a fellow Republican, so this seat is a guaranteed hold for the party (and virtually guaranteed for Kennedy, probably a future US Senate candidate).
  • Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry: Republican Commissioner Mike Strain is the only heavyweight in this four-person field, although one of the candidates is an arborist named Jamie LaBranche, so that's cool.
  • Commissioner of Insurance: Incumbent Republican James Donelon has already reached 50% in a pre-election poll against his main Democratic opponent, Charlotte McGehee, as well as a Republican auto-body businessman. He's safe.


  • Lieutenant Governor: For LG, Democrats have nominated an Elvis impersonator who was a Republican as recently as Martin Luther King Day. Somehow, though, incumbent Republican Tate Reeves is even more popular than that guy.
  • Attorney General: Incumbent AG Jim Hood is the last statewide Democrat standing in the Deep South—and he's not even that conservative, prosecuting KKK members and declining to join the suit against Obamacare. Can he hang on for a fourth term? Early indications are yes (a Mason-Dixon poll showed him leading Republican Mike Hurst 55% to 40%), but never underestimate the power of partisanship. With a conservative outside spender already airing ads in the race, it will at least be a competitive election.
  • Secretary of State: The phenomenally named Delbert Hosemann is up for his third term, and he has a phenomenal 1,899 times as much cash on hand ($1,139,390 to $600) as Democrat Charles Graham. Barring something even more phenomenal, this will be an easy hold for the Republican.
  • Treasurer: No Democrat filed to challenge first-term Republican Lynn Fitch.
  • Auditor: The Pickerings are a mini-dynasty in Mississippi, and Stacey is the state auditor. His campaign has been under investigation for financial violations, but if he was going to lose, it would have been in the nasty primary. The Mississippi electorate and his breezy fundraising will ensure Pickering defeats Democrat Jocelyn Pepper Pritchett in November.
  • Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce: Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith—the first woman elected to statewide office in state history—is facing only a token challenge from a local Democratic activist.
  • Commissioner of Insurance: Republican Mike Chaney will be elected to his third term without any opposition.

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