Monday, October 16, 2017

2017 Downballot Race Ratings for Louisiana and Virginia

The year following a presidential election is often the sleepiest time for elections (although certainly not for politics). Indeed, this November will feature only three of this blog's favorite races to analyze: downballot constitutional offices. As always, Baseballot will be the only site on the World Wide Web handicapping these under-the-radar yet multi-million-dollar campaigns. As my colleagues at Inside Elections do for congressional elections, I rate each state executive race on a Solid-Likely-Lean-Tilt scale, with the very closest of races earning the coveted label of "Toss-up."

According to my Big, Bad Chart of Constitutional Offices, the seats on the ballot this year include one lieutenant governor, one attorney general, and one treasurer. As it turns out, all of these elections will probably continue the status quo in the two states where they are taking place. Below are my initial ratings for the three seats; in the future, these ratings can be found on the "2017 Ratings" tab in the menu above, where they will be updated through Election Day.


  • Treasurer: Solid Republican. After Treasurer John Kennedy was elected to the U.S. Senate in December 2016, a statewide special election was called to fill the remaining two years in his term. After six candidates squared off in the low-turnout October 14 jungle primary, Democrat Derrick Edwards (31%) and Republican John Schroder (24%) finished first and second to advance to the November 18 runoff. Democrats might have once had an outside shot at winning this seat: the party has overperformed in special elections thus far this year (probably due to the unpopularity of President Donald Trump), and the treasurer election just so happens to coincide with a competitive open mayoral race in dark blue New Orleans, meaning Democrats may constitute a disproportionate share of the electorate. However, it has quickly become apparent that Edwards isn't taking his campaign seriously. Despite an inspiring backstory (the wheelchair-bound Edwards was paralyzed by a brutal collision in a high-school football game; after doctors told him he would have to be cared for in an institution for the rest of his life, he instead got two graduate degrees and is now a practicing lawyer), Edwards has barely campaigned, missed campaign-finance deadlines, skipped debates and media events, and refused to talk about his plans until after he is elected. As a result, the Louisiana Democratic Party isn't even supporting his campaign, effectively ceding the race to the Republican Schroder, a former state representative. Schroder was the only candidate able to accrue significant funds from a tapped-out Louisiana donor class in the first phase of the campaign, raising more than all of his opponents combined ($436,954, compared to only $9,678 for Edwards). Now that he's the only Republican in the race, he'll use that dough to consolidate support and win easily.


Sometimes, a state's downballot races are decided by turnout at the top of the ticket, and it looks like that will be the case in Virginia this year: so far, the commonwealth's two constitutional-officer elections have tracked extremely closely with its hard-fought gubernatorial race. That contest is rated Lean Democratic by Inside Elections, but if it ends up being more Democratic or Republican than predicted, the two elections below will too. (All three elections take place on Tuesday, November 7.)
  • Lieutenant Governor: Lean Democratic. With a truly batty Republican primary behind us (which State Senator Jill Vogel might have won by spreading rumors that her opponent had an affair), the general election for lieutenant governor has been as uninteresting as the actual post, which is part-time and mostly consists of breaking ties in the State Senate. Vogel has struck an interesting balance between distancing herself from the rest of the Republican Party on issues like gay rights and also not showing any of Ed Gillespie's hesitance to embrace President Trump. Meanwhile, Democrat Justin Fairfax, who lost a close primary for attorney general in 2013, is attacking Vogel for her legal defense of various dark-money groups and a bill she sponsored to require women to have an invasive ultrasound before getting an abortion. Vogel also caused a mini-stir by saying Fairfax, who is black, couldn't "talk intelligently" on the issues. Ultimately, though, that gaffe is unlikely to make a splash in an ocean of daily Trump tweets, and, with each candidate having only about $300,000 in the bank, the LG race has been the quietest of Virginia's three campaigns on TV thus far. Polling shows Fairfax with a lead comparable to Democrat Ralph Northam's in the governor's race.
  • Attorney General: Lean Democratic. Instead, all the downballot action in Old Dominion is here. The Republican Attorneys General Association has poured $2.75 million into the campaign coffers of Republican candidate John Adams—and yet he still trails Democrat Mark Herring in total fundraising by $2.8 million. In response, the Democratic Attorneys General Association has given Herring $1.7 million, helping to fund a major TV blitz by the incumbent AG. Adams's campaign has responded in kind, and he is further buoyed by the air support of the NRA's political action committee, the only outside group advertising in a downballot race so far this year. Adams and his Republican allies are accusing Herring of politicizing the attorney general's office (Herring has sued the Trump administration over immigration and tried to prevent out-of-state gun permits from being used in Virginia), but this light blue state might actually be on board with that: Herring leads polls by as wide a margin as any of Virginia's three Democrats on the 2017 ballot.