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Center on the American Governor > On Governors > U.S. Governors > 2019 Gubernatorial Elections

2019 Gubernatorial Elections

2019 Gov Elec MapThere are only three gubernatorial elections in the U.S. this year. All are in southern states that overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Only one—Mississippi—is for an open seat. Each race, however, has its own interesting storylines. A quick look at the races:

 

Kentucky

In Kentucky, incumbent Governor Matt Bevin (R) is running for re-election. Bevin has struggled with low approval ratings throughout his term—according to one poll this summer, he had only a 32% approval rating, the lowest for a current U.S. governor. Despite that, Bevin won renomination in a tough primary, defeating state Representative Robert Goforth.

He will face a Democratic opponent with strong name recognition in the general election: current Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear. In addition to fame from his current office, Beshear is the son of former two-term Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (2007-2015).

As an incumbent in what is considered a solidly red state, Bevin is likely the favorite in the race. Bevin’s unpopularity, however, combined with Beshear’s name recognition could provide an opportunity for the Democratic candidate to pick up the seat. Many onlookers feel this could be the closest of the three races this fall.

 

Louisiana

The Louisiana race also features an incumbent seeking reelection: Democrat John Bel Edwards, the only Democratic governor currently serving in the deep South. Bel Edwards is the favorite in the race, but is facing opposition from a number of Republicans, led by U.S. Representative Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone.

Perhaps most interesting, Louisiana’s system for choosing its governor is unique in the U.S. Louisiana is the only state to use a “jungle primary.” All of the gubernatorial candidates—regardless of party—will compete against each other in one primary, which does not take place until October 12, 2019. If any candidate receives over 50% of the vote in that primary, then he or she will be the next governor. If no candidate reaches that threshold, the top two—again regardless of party—will advance to a runoff.*

Bel Edwards has led the race in early polling, but has not been polling over 50%. A runoff is likely. Such a runoff would not take place until November 16, 2019, opening the possibility of a significant amount of national attention.

*Note that there are other states that run “blanket” primaries in which all candidates of every party participate. Unlike in Louisiana, though, in those states, the top two advance to the general election even if one candidate receives over 50%.

 

Mississippi

Mississippi is perhaps the most interesting race this year for two reasons. First, it is the only open gubernatorial seat. Incumbent Governor Phil Bryant (R) is term-limited. While his lieutenant governor—Tate Reeves—was the Republican frontrunner, Reeves failed to reach 50% in the Republican primary on August 6, however, and therefore faced a runoff against former Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court Bill Waller on August 29th. Reeves won the run-off, defeating Waller 54.3% to 45.7% and will be the Republican nominee.

While Mississippi is currently considered a strong Republican state, the Democratic nominee has a record of winning statewide office in the state. Current Attorney General Jim Hood easily won the Democratic primary. Head-to-head polls pitting Hood against Reeves are relatively tight, though Reeves has recently pulled ahead.

There is a second reason Mississippi is particularly interesting, however. Mississippi is also unique in the way in which it chooses its governor, and there is a chance that the uniqueness of the system could determine this year’s outcome. Gubernatorial candidates in Mississippi have to do more than just win a majority of votes to win the office.  They must win a majority of the total votes case statewide AND a plurality of the votes cast in a majority of state house districts. If no candidate wins both, the winner is chosen by the State House of Representatives.

As a result, a possible scenario is that Hood—the Democratic candidate—could win the statewide popular vote but fail to win in a majority of state house districts. In that case, the Mississippi House of Representatives would decide the race. Every seat in the Mississippi House is also up for election in 2019, but Republicans currently hold a strong 74-44 majority in the chamber.