GOP seeks to nationalize gubernatorial elections

President Trump and Republicans are nationalizing gubernatorial races in Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana, setting the stage for a litmus test for Trump’s support in red states ahead of 2020. 

Trump is using visits to support the GOP candidates in each state as opportunities to attack the House impeachment probe in a strategic bid to rally the Republican base ahead of what are expected to be close races. 

The candidates in these races have also waded into impeachment while painting Democrats as extreme on issues such as immigration and abortion. The strategy highlights how themes of the 2020 presidential race are filtering to state races as Democrats from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) to former Vice President Joe Biden seek to take on Trump.

{mosads}Trump is slated to hold a rally in Kentucky on Monday evening on behalf of Gov. Matt Bevin (R) a day before he faces a difficult reelection against Attorney General Andy Beshear (D).

The president will then travel to Louisiana for a rally on Wednesday ahead of a runoff on Nov. 16 that will pit Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) against Republican businessman Eddie Rispone.

Trump has already gone to Mississippi, where Attorney General Jim Hood (D) and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) are vying to replace term-limited Gov. Phil Bryant (R) in a contest on Tuesday.

At the rally in Tupelo, Trump painted himself as the victim of an impeachment effort that he described as “an attack on democracy itself” and an effort to undo his 2016 election win.

“The smartest move was taking President Trump because he’s thinking sort of from a strategy standpoint, Tupelo, Mississippi, which is the heart of Northeast Mississippi,” veteran Mississippi GOP strategist Austin Barbour said in an interview with The Hill. “Northeast Mississippi is traditionally a swing part of our state.”

Barbour added that impeachment has also become a rallying cry for Republicans nationally.

“Impeachment is a big issue in Mississippi like it is in any other state because it’s the national news. Cable news dominates that issue,” Barbour said.

Republican strategists believe impeachment will similarly resonate in Kentucky and Louisiana.

Louisiana Republican pollster John Couvillon said he first noticed the impact impeachment was having on the GOP electorate after witnessing a surge of early voting by Republicans in the gubernatorial primary.

“All of a sudden, when I’m seeing early voting being the second-highest ever, I do think you have to attribute that to a reaction against the Democrats pursuing impeachment,” Couvillon said.

Democrats, meanwhile, say they believe impeachment will not resonate as widely as local kitchen table issues such as health care and the economy.

“We’re all tied up in this impeachment stuff, but really a majority of people care about, can I afford my rent? What happens if I get sick? How am I going to afford my health care?” Kelly Dietrich, the founder and head of the National Democratic Training Committee, said.

The nationalization of the races is taking place in three states that Trump won overwhelmingly in 2016. 

However, Republicans now face much closer gubernatorial races.

Bevin is running neck and neck with Beshear, according to a survey last month from Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy.

Meanwhile, only 3 points separate Reeves from his Democratic opponent in Mississippi, according to Mason-Dixon.

The Cook Political Report has rated the Kentucky and Louisiana races as “toss-ups” and has labeled the Mississippi race as “lean Republican.”

Other nationalized issues besides impeachment are filtering into the race. Bevin has repeatedly invoked abortion and immigration in the campaign.

On abortion, Republicans have repeatedly painted the national Democratic Party as radical.

Bevin has gone so far as to question Beshear’s Baptist faith in a Facebook video, citing his support for abortion rights. 

Despite being nowhere near the southern border, Bevin has also pushed the issue of immigration, painting Democrats and his opponent as being too lax on the issue.

Bevin’s campaign released an ad in September saying Beshear would permit illegal immigrants to “swarm our state,” according to The Associated Press, adopting language similar to that of Trump.

Beshear’s campaign called the ad “baseless” and “false.”

It is a strategy Republicans say will pay dividends.

“The Democratic presidential debates came along at a great time for Bevin because it reminds Democrats in Kentucky why they are uncomfortable with their national party, especially on things like immigration and abortion,” said Republican strategist Scott Jennings.

Jennings cited as an example “that famous scene in the debate” in June when all of the Democrats on stage raised their hand when asked if they support federal health care for undocumented immigrants.

“That footage has been in numerous ads for various campaigns down here,” Jennings continued. “People are just being constantly reminded that even if you are a registered Democrat, surely you aren’t for those Democrats.”

Tags Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Joe Biden
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