Kentucky and Mississippi will elect governors on Tuesday, with Democrats looking for upset victories in those two solidly Republican states.
In Virginia, voters will decide control of the state legislature, where Republicans have slim majorities in each chamber. If the G.O.P. loses, Virginia state government will be under full Democratic control.
The big picture
Tuesday’s election results will offer insights on two crucial political dynamics heading into the 2020 campaign: the depth of President Trump’s appeal with Republicans and how fully suburban voters have swung to the Democrats.
The Republican candidates for governor in Kentucky and Mississippi have aggressively linked themselves to Mr. Trump and sought to tie their rivals to the national Democrats pursuing the impeachment inquiry against the president. Mr. Trump, who comfortably carried both states in 2016, has put his political capital on the line: He rallied voters in Mississippi on Friday and was in Kentucky on Monday night.
The president has not appeared on the campaign trail in Virginia, where Democrats are hoping Mr. Trump’s deep unpopularity in the suburbs is enough for them to flip control of both chambers of the state legislature. Virginia is the only Southern state the president lost in 2016, and Republicans are facing a series of difficult races in metropolitan districts.
The 2019 election season does not end Tuesday, however. On Saturday, Nov. 16, Louisiana voters will choose between Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, and his challenger, the businessman Eddie Rispone. It’s another race where the Republicans are trying to harness Mr. Trump’s standing with conservative voters and their dismay over his looming impeachment to nationalize a state election. Mr. Trump, who has already been to Louisiana once for Republicans this fall, is headed back there later this week to stump for Mr. Rispone.
Who is less unpopular in Kentucky?
Voters in Kentucky will decide whether Matt Bevin will be the first Republican governor in the state’s history to win a second term. The partisan gravity, in a red state that is still quite fond of Mr. Trump, would seem to favor him heavily.
But Mr. Bevin’s broad personal unpopularity has made this a tossup.
Drawing support from schoolteachers and others who have felt insulted or bullied by the governor, Andy Beshear, the Democratic state attorney general and the son of Mr. Bevin’s immediate predecessor, entered the general election with a lead. But a summer of ads drawing attention to Mr. Beshear’s (or his party’s) positions on abortion, immigration and the president steadily dragged down that early edge.
The impeachment inquiry against Mr. Trump is energizing Republicans while Mr. Beshear has sought to focus on local issues. One question on Tuesday is whether an aversion to a particular politician, Mr. Bevin, is greater than an aversion to a particular political party, i.e., the Democrats.
Woodford County, just outside of Lexington, is one of the city’s growing suburban communities and a destination for bourbon tourists. In the 2011 governor’s race, Woodford voted for the Democrat, Steve Beshear, by a more than 2-to-1 margin. In 2015, the county narrowly elected Mr. Bevin.
Welby Southerland, who was getting into his car on Tuesday after voting downstairs at the county courthouse, isn’t sure that was a good decision.
“I want a new governor,” said Mr. Southerland, 76, who spent his life working on farms and in feed mills. “The one we have lies quite a bit.”
His thoughts were echoed by Missy Rogers, 67, who could not understand the way Mr. Bevin has treated teachers. Ms. Rogers is not a teacher herself — she manages stores in the Lexington area that sell homemade dollhouses. But she was furious about the governor’s treatment of them, even baffled by it. “It’s just insane to hurt teachers,” she said. And so she voted straight-ticket Democrat to send Mr. Bevin a message.
Well, Mr. Bevin and someone else.
“I just think Trump is evil,” she said. “He just wants to hurt so many people.”
A vote against Mr. Bevin was, for her, also a vote against Mr. Trump. That was the calculus. Mr. Beshear’s name hardly came up.
Murphy Smith, 64, walking out of the courthouse shortly after Ms. Rogers, saw the same sort of connection. “He’s like Trump,” Mr. Smith said of Mr. Bevin. But for him this worked in the opposite direction. “And I’m a Trump man,” he said.
‘Meanspirited’ and ‘imperious’: Some Kentucky voters fed up with governor
At a Knights of Columbus gathering on the banks of the Ohio River, many said they had voted for Mr. Beshear, the Democratic challenger, driven by their dissatisfaction with Mr. Bevin.
“I’m a lifelong Republican,” John Whitt, a retired physician, said just after voting on Tuesday afternoon. But, he added, that he has two daughters who are teachers. “I think education is the biggest thing,” Dr. Whitt, 72, said, “the preservation of public schools.”
Arthur Blanford and his wife, Nancy, agreed. Dr. Blanford, a physician, said his vote was about “treating teachers well, and without disparagement.” He supported better pay for educators. And, as a doctor, he wanted more resources channeled toward handling the opioid crisis ravaging Kentucky, like much of the country, and opposed Mr. Bevin’s push to curb the Medicaid expansion pursued by his predecessor.
“We’ve voted Democrat for a long time,” he said of he and his wife, adding that they also voted for Amy McGrath, a Democrat challenging the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. “We’re ditching Moscow Mitch,” he said, referring to a nickname detractors have given the Republican senator.
The Blanfords, like others who voted for Andy Beshear, the state’s attorney general, said they were not so enthusiastic about the candidate; more so, they were outraged with Mr. Bevin, turned off by his personality as much as his stance on issues.
“He’s imperious,” Dr. Blanford said.
“And meanspirited,” Ms. Blanford, a retired classical flutist, added.
John Brown, who has worked in heating and air-conditioning for more than 30 years, said that he has wavered between parties over the years. This time, he also voted for Mr. Beshear. “I watch the news, and that’s how I vote,
“He has poor manners,” Mr. Brown, 62, said, adding that he does not care for his hotheaded temperament, which was apparent in seeing him talk. “You can tell his blood pressure is rising.”
The battle for Virginia’s suburbs
Virginians will decide whether to hand power to Democrats for the first time in a generation or maintain divided government. Major policy issues like gun safety are at stake, as well as control over drawing new voting districts in 2021. All 140 seats in both chambers are on the ballot. Republicans hold slim majorities of 20-19 in the Senate and 51-48 in the House of Delegates, with one vacancy in each.
If you’re watching the election returns on Tuesday night, here are some of the most closely contested races to follow that will help determine which party controls the legislature:
Senate District 13: Loudon and Prince William Counties in the Washington suburbs. This open seat, vacated by a Republican in a region rapidly becoming a blue enclave, is likely the best pickup chance for Democrats. John Bell, a Democratic state delegate, faces Geary Higgins, a Loudon supervisor.
Senate District 10: suburbia west of Richmond. Glen Sturtevant, a Republican, may be the most threatened incumbent statewide in a district that Hillary Clinton carried by 11 points in 2016. His Democratic challenger, Ghazala Hashmi, would be the first Muslim woman in the Senate.
Senate District 12: suburbia north of Richmond. Siobhan Dunnavant, the Republican incumbent, won her seat easily in 2015. Since then she has taken an unpopular vote opposing Medicaid expansion. Her Democratic challenger, Debra Rodman, is a freshman member of the House of Delegates who first ran for office in the blue wave year of 2017. Ms. Rodman says her internal polls show a tied race.
Senate District 7: Virginia Beach. An open seat following a Republican retirement. Cheryl Turpin, the Democrat, is a delegate first elected in the 2017 wave. Her Republican opponent, Jen Kiggans, is a former Navy pilot. The district went for Mr. Trump in 2016, but swung to Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, in 2017.
House District 94: Newport News. The 2017 race here made national headlines when it resulted in a tie and the winner was chosen by drawing. This year the two candidates are in a rematch: David Yancey, the Republican incumbent, versus Shelly Simonds.
House District 66: Richmond suburbs. A court-ordered redistricting forced Kirk Cox, the speaker of the House, into a district that now favors Democrats. He faces Sheila Bynum-Coleman, a member of the state Board of Contractors. Mr. Cox is Virginia’s most powerful Republican.
House District 83: Virginia Beach. Chris Stolle, the Republican incumbent, was redrawn into a seat that is more Democratic. He faces Nancy Guy, a former school board member.
House District 85: Virginia Beach. An open seat that Republicans believe they can flip. The Democratic winner in 2017, who prevailed by just 389 votes, is running for State Senate. Alex Askew, the Democratic nominee, faces Rocky Holcomb, a sheriff’s deputy who narrowly lost the same race two years ago.
House District 73: Henrico County outside of Richmond. Another open seat whose Democratic occupant is running for the State Senate. That has given Republicans hope in a district that used to be reliably red. Both the Democrat, Rodney Willett, a lawyer, and the Republican, Mary Margaret Kastelberg, a banker, are first-time candidates.
A competitive race in Mississippi
In a strongly Republican state, the Mississippi governor’s race pits Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican who has been endorsed by the outgoing Republican governor, against Attorney General Jim Hood, an anti-abortion, pro-gun Democrat.
The race has been competitive, but Mississippi is an uphill climb for any Democrat.
Mr. Hood will need strong turnout from black voters and will be closely watching turnout and returns in the state capital, Jackson, which is predominantly black, as well as other urban areas and the Mississippi Delta region.
Mr. Reeves, who won the Republican nomination after a runoff, will be looking to bring dissenting Republicans into his fold. His supporters will likely be keeping an eye on the Jackson suburbs, particularly the vote-rich Republican redoubt of Rankin County, for signs of defections to Mr. Hood, who has trumpeted his good-old-boy bona fides (truck, dog, guns) in his TV ads.
If the race is close, a Jim Crow-era provision of the Mississippi Constitution expressly devised to limit black political power may come into play. It mandates that candidates for state-level office must win not only a majority of the popular vote, but also a majority of the 122 state House districts. If that does not happen, the winner will be picked by the state House of Representatives, which is controlled by Republicans.
Few issues at the polls, so far
Election Day began smoothly for the most part, with scattered reports of problems at polling places but no evidence of any systemic disruption of voting. Some polls opened late in Texas, and in Pennsylvania, where voting machines are particularly antiquated, some breakdowns were reported, according to poll monitors and callers to a hotline run by Election Protection, a consortium of groups promoting voting rights. Pennsylvanians at polls with broken machines cast their votes on paper ballots.
In Revere, near Philadelphia, a Democratic candidate for mayor complained online that his supporters were being challenged as they sought to vote, but the report could not be immediately verified.
In North Carolina, a state website that helps voters find their polling place was briefly out of commission at midmorning. And in Richmond, Va., one precinct was reported to have run out of ballots by 8 a.m.
In Georgia, electronic voter-registration books were out of commission part of Tuesday morning in at least five Georgia counties, including Paulding County in suburban Atlanta. Election Protection officials said a number of voters in two Georgia counties were not listed in registration records, an issue that led to a lawsuit in 2018.
Some Houston polls reported long lines in areas with hotly contested city races. And in Louisville, voting hours were extended at one poll in an elementary school after reports of an armed person near the school led to a lockdown that lasted roughly an hour. Police officers later arrested a suspect.
And in Marion, Ohio, a Republican Party official and a candidate for city auditor were arrested on Tuesday on charges of distributing campaign fliers crafted to look like sample ballots. Ohio law bars distributing phony sample ballots, and offenders can be fined up to $1,000 and jailed for up to six months.
Erroneous voting instructions and other disinformation began popping up on a handful of Twitter accounts on Monday, including one post encouraging Kentucky supporters of Mr. Bevin to vote on Wednesday.
That and other posts were removed and some accounts were closed after being reported, according to David Vance, a spokesman for Common Cause, a member of the Election Protection alliance. None appeared to have spread widely.
Ranked-choice voting on the ballot in New York City
In New York State, voters have been casting ballots for a week under a newly implemented early voting process.
In Democratic-heavy New York City, two Democrats are easily expected to defeat their Republican opposition: Jumaane Williams, of Brooklyn, is seeking re-election for public advocate. Melinda Katz, the Queens borough president is running for district attorney.
City voters also faced five ballot questions, including whether to create ranked-choice in future elections (the next mayor’s race is in 2021). To fit all the questions in English and Spanish on one ballot sheet, election officials used tiny seven-point font.
L. Joy Williams, the president of the Brooklyn chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., voted Tuesday morning in Bushwick, Brooklyn. She said she voted against ranked-choice voting because supporters had not shown how it would work in a crowded election season. “What does the ballot look like?” she asked.
Voting was quick. “I double parked and had my flashes on in front of a school,” Ms. Williams recalled. “It was maybe less than 5 minutes.” Christina Greer, an associate professor of political science at Fordham University voted on Thursday in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. “It was not busy at all, but it was disorganized,” she said.
In Monroe County, which includes Rochester, George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist, spent more than $800,000 to support Shani Curry Mitchell, a Democratic candidate challenging the incumbent Republican. Despite the attention that caused, turnout was on par with prior elections, according to Colleen Anderson, the Democratic Commissioner of the Monroe County Board of Elections.
A proxy battle for the future of New Jersey Republicans
Democrats remain in firm control of the State Assembly in New Jersey and only a handful of races are competitive this year, but an existential threat looms for the Republican Party in New Jersey, one year after being nearly wiped off the map in the 2018 congressional elections.
In District 21, Jon Bramnick, the Republican leader in the assembly who has been a fixture in Trenton for nearly two decades and a staunch ally of Chris Christie, the former governor, is in the fight of his political life. The state district, which largely resides in the congressional district that Representative Tom Malinowski flipped from red to blue last year, is part of the recent prototypical Jersey suburban revolt: abandoning the Republican Party in droves in response to the Trump era (and, to a potentially equal extent, the loss of the state and local tax deduction in the Trump tax cuts).
Mr. Bramnick, however, has maintained the traditional Jersey moderate Republican course that appealed to the once reliably Republican suburbs. He is highly critical of Mr. Trump, but is also staunchly opposing the liberal policies of Gov. Philip D. Murphy, a Democrat, depicting him as a socialist, tax-and-spend liberal.
Should Mr. Bramnick lose, it will damage more than just the morale of a struggling state party. Conservatives could attribute his loss to his criticism of Mr. Trump, and push for a more hard-line state party. But aligning with a deeply unpopular president in the state could only further doom the dwindling Republican presence in Trenton.
Reporting was contributed by Nick Corasaniti, Richard Fausset, Trip Gabriel, Azi Paybarah, Campbell Robertson, Rick Rojas and Michael Wines.