Top 5 races to watch in 2019

Voters have already turned their attention to the 2020 presidential race as a crowded field of Democratic candidates is expected to emerge early next year to take on President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi arrives in Jordan with bipartisan congressional delegation Trump says his Doral resort will no longer host G-7 after backlash CNN's Anderson Cooper mocks WH press secretary over Fox News interview MORE.

But there are still a handful of interesting races in 2019 — many in the South — as well as the growing likelihood that North Carolina will take the unprecedented step of calling a new election in its disputed House race.

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Here are the five races to watch next year:

North Carolina likely headed to House redo

North Carolina is on the precipice of making state history as a new House election in the 9th District appears inevitable.

Republican Mark HarrisMark HarrisThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats clash over future of party in heated debate Why my American Indian tribe voted Republican in NC's special election North Carolina race raises 2020 red flags for Republicans, Democrats MORE leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes, but the North Carolina State Board of Elections has refused to certify the results as it investigates widespread claims of absentee ballot fraud in a couple of rural counties.

Any new election, whether ordered by the state board of elections or the U.S. House of Representatives, would require staging new primaries, giving Republicans an opening to ditch Harris.

The North Carolina General Assembly this month passed a bill that, among other things, grants the board authority to order a new primary. Previously, the board could only call for a general election redo among the same candidates.

Gov. Roy Cooper (D) vetoed that bill, citing concerns with a provision about campaign finance. But the state legislature this week voted to override the veto.

Still, many of the details are murky regarding the disputed race, including when an expected new election would take place. 

The state elections board is also undergoing major changes after dissolving on Friday under a previously mandated court order.

Cooper said he plans to install an interim panel of state elections officials that would operate until Jan. 31, when a new state law remaking North Carolina's elections and ethics boards takes effect, according to The Charlotte Observer.

The state elections board is currently scheduled to hold an evidentiary hearing on Jan. 11 — a week after new members of the House of Representatives are to be seated under a new Democratic majority. 

So far, the state Republican Party is standing behind Harris. The North Carolina GOP called on the state board of elections to certify Harris as the winner if the board can’t provide evidence that alleged voting irregularities changed the outcome of the race.

On Friday, Harris’s campaign filed an emergency petition for the elections board to certify the race. 

But the U.S. House of Representatives has the constitutional authority over all congressional elections and it has the power to call for an investigation of its own, or an entire new election, which would include a new filing process, primary and general election.

Incoming House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse Republicans 'demand the release of the rules' on impeachment Scalise, Cole introduce resolution to change rules on impeachment Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg defends handling of misinformation in political ads | Biden camp hits Zuckerberg over remarks | Dem bill would jail tech execs for lying about privacy | Consumer safety agency accidentally disclosed personal data MORE (D-Md.) said Friday that Democrats will refuse to seat Harris on Jan. 3, when a new Congress under Democratic majority takes power, as state election authorities continue their investigation. 

The 9th District is a Republican stronghold that’s had GOP representation for more than five decades. The district includes the suburbs of Charlotte but also more rural areas that trend Republican.

But McCready overperformed in a district that Trump carried by nearly 12 points in 2016, giving Democrats a good shot at flipping the seat.

GOP targets Louisiana governor race

Gov. John Bel Edwards shocked the political world as a Democrat who romped to victory in Louisiana’s governor race in 2015.

Once viewed as an underdog, Edwards easily defeated then-Sen. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterLouisiana Republicans score big legislative wins Trump calls on Republicans to vote out Democratic Louisiana governor amid GOP infighting Grocery group hires new top lobbyist MORE (R-La.). Now, Edwards will run for a second term in what’s likely to draw a big GOP crowd to reclaim the governor’s mansion in an election taking place on Oct. 12.

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) was initially seen as a top contender to take on Edwards. But after publicly weighing a gubernatorial bid for months, he announced that he’d remain in the upper chamber.

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So far, Rep. Ralph Abraham (La.) and businessman Eddie Rispone are the only declared Republican challengers. 

Rispone has said he’s open to spending up to $10 million of his own money. But the field is likely to balloon after Kennedy opted out of the race, leaving the race for the Republican nomination wide open.

There’s a long list of Republicans considering a bid, including state Sen. Sharon Hewitt and state Treasure John Schroder.

State Attorney General Jeff Landry recently said he’ll run for reelection, but some speculate that he may reconsider, especially with Kennedy out.

Republicans have upper hand in Mississippi

The Nov. 5 race to replace term-limited Gov. Phil Bryant (R) in deep-red Mississippi is expected to favor Republicans, especially with a popular outgoing governor.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) is seen as the likely front-runner, though he hasn’t made it official. Plus, he has the advantage since he's accumulated a multimillion-dollar campaign account.

State GOP Rep. Robert Foster was offered a fundraising boost to keep him out of Mississippi’s governor race as Reeves continues to weigh a bid, according to Mississippi Today.

But Foster announced in mid-December that he’ll mount a run, labeling himself a “conservative outsider.” Petal Mayor Hal Marx (R) has also declared his candidacy.

On the Democratic side, four-term state Attorney General Jim Hood has thrown his hat into the ring. Hood is the only Mississippi Democrat holding statewide elected office and has experience running successful statewide campaigns.

Retired Jackson State University employee Velesha Williams is also running for the Democratic nomination.

Mississippi Democrats feel fairly bullish about Hood’s prospects, but a statewide race is still an uphill climb for the party.

Democrats made an aggressive play in Mississippi’s Senate runoff in November to replace retired Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranBiden has a lot at stake in first debate The Hill's Morning Report — Trump turns the page back to Mueller probe Trump praises Thad Cochran: 'A real senator with incredible values' MORE.

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) appeared headed for an easy victory, but the race tightened after she said she would be willing to attend a “public hanging” if invited by a supporter,  sparking strong backlash in a state with a history of lynchings.

Former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy (D), who was vying to become the state’s first African-American senator since Reconstruction, sought to mobilize the state’s black voter bloc, but he ended losing by 8 points to Hyde-Smith.

Still, the campaign showed small glimmers of hope for Democrats, with Hyde-Smith’s victory margin smaller than in previous statewide races.

To win next year, Democrats will need a candidate who can woo black voters and make inroads with loyal GOP voters in more rural pockets.

Democrats target unpopular Kentucky governor

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) goes into his reelection race on Nov. 5 facing some challenging hurdles. The first-term governor is saddled with low approval numbers and a recent poll found Bevin trailing Democratic opponents.

The race has drawn a few Democratic candidates, including Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear and State House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins. In a December Mason-Dixon poll, Beshear led Bevin by 8 points, while Adkins was in a dead heat with the Republican governor.

But it’s still a long ways out and Bevin has previously rebounded from bad poll numbers. He trailed his Democratic rival in his first gubernatorial bid in 2015 but ended winning by nearly double digits.

Plus, Bevin has the benefit of the president’s sustained approval numbers. Trump won Kentucky by nearly 30 points in 2016 and remains popular in the state.

Beshear, the son of former Gov. Steve Beshear, has already made it clear that he plans to highlight the discontent of Kentucky teachers over school funding and pension reform that surfaced in protests this spring.

As attorney general, Beshear filed several lawsuits against Bevin over a pension reform law that was ruled unconstitutional by Kentucky’s Supreme Court in mid-December.

And Beshear is joining several attorneys general to challenge a ruling from a federal judge in Texas who struck down ObamaCare.

Meanwhile, Adkins announced his gubernatorial campaign in November. The veteran state legislator argued that he’s the only Democrat who can sway rural voters who are crucial for statewide victory.

Other potential Democratic candidates who have been floated include Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who lost a high-profile race against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhite House staggers after tumultuous 48 hours The Memo: Trump's sea of troubles deepens McConnell: Trump's troop pull back in Syria a 'grave strategic mistake' MORE (R) in 2014. 

But veteran Amy McGrath, who lost a nationally watched bid against GOP Rep. Andy BarrAndy Hale BarrTensions flare as Democrats urge consumer bureau to boost penalties The Hill's Campaign Report: Impeachment fight to take center stage at Dem debate McGrath raises nearly million in third quarter for bid to unseat McConnell MORE this November, recently ruled out a gubernatorial bid.

Democrats seek to turn Virginia all-blue

Democrats will be fighting to flip Virginia’s House of Delegates and Senate on Nov. 5 after making unexpectedly big gains in the state’s 2017 elections.

Aside from Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) big victory in 2017, a big story of the night was Democrats coming on the verge of taking over the House of Delegates, signaling the deeper blue hue of Virginia.

Democrats picked up 15 GOP-held state House seats and fell just shy of an even split in the chamber after losing a tiebreaker that consisted of drawing a name from a bowl.

The win in the draw by the incumbent Republican delegate gave the party a 51-49 majority in the House, while the GOP holds a slim 21-19 seat majority in the state Senate. Every seat in each chamber will be up for reelection next year.

In the 2018 midterms, Virginia Democrats had another promising cycle after flipping three GOP-held seats and after Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineLawmakers set to host fundraisers focused on Nats' World Series trip The Hill's 12:30 Report: Washington mourns loss of Elijah Cummings GOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate MORE (D) was easily reelected.

Democrats have shown strength in suburban Virginia, and are hoping to build on those gains to challenge Republicans.