US 2011: Quick Overview
State elections for gubernatorial, legislative, down-ballot and mayoral offices were held in various states in the United States on November 8, 2011. The main elections were gubernatorial elections in Kentucky and Mississippi, major state initiatives on the ballots in Ohio and Mississippi and state legislative elections in Virginia, New Jersey, Kentucky, Mississippi and I believe runoffs in Louisiana. I won’t cover all races, but here’s a synopsis of the races I found interesting.
Gubernatorial elections were a snooze. Governor Bobby Jindal (R) had already won a landslide reelection in Louisiana’s jungle primary in October, taking nearly 66% of the vote against some 18% for Tara Hollis, a teacher which was the best Democrats could settle on to oppose a very popular governor in a very conservative state where the Democratic Party is a dying breed as the last specimens of conservative Dixiecrats who are still Democrats join the Republicans. Only West Virginia’s special election on October 4 was remotely interesting, with incumbent Governor Earl Ray Tomblin (D), a conservative Democrat, winning a surprisingly close race 50-47 against Republican businessman Bill Maloney. Tomblin, a favourite of the WVDP establishment and of businesses, had succeeded Joe Manchin when Manchin won the Senate contest in 2010.
In Kentucky, Governor Steve Beshear (D) had defeated corruption scared Governor Ernie Fletcher (R) in 2007 by a big landslide (59-41). A conservative Democrat, he fits his state well and has remained popular. The Republican candidate, David Williams was definitely underwhelming and didn’t stand a chance. Gatewood Galbraith, a civil liberties activist and cannabis-legalization supporter, ran as an independent and surprisingly picked up the endorsement of the powerful UMW.
In Mississippi, high-profile Governor Haley Barbour (R) was term-limited. His successor was Lt. Governor Phil Bryant. Democrats picked Hattiesburg mayor Johnny DuPree (an African-American) in a divided primary to be their sacrificial lamb. Here’s a roundup of the gubernatorial results:
|State||Rep %||Dem %||Ind %|
Dave’s Election Atlas has the map up for Kentucky and Mississippi should be coming up soon. I won’t comment much on the Kentucky map, as it is the usual pattern for a Democratic landslide in the state, but the surprising aspect to me was Beshear’s pretty underwhelming performance in the Democratic bastions of the coal country where he had performed very strongly (60-70%) in 2007 but did pretty poorly this year. Galbraith, being endorsed by the UMW and being from the broader region (though not directly coal country) is part of it, but in places such as Floyd or Pike, Williams did quite a bit better than Fletcher had done in 2007 despite doing some 5% worse than Fletcher state-wide. I wonder if Obama has a particularly rancid effect on those kind of ancestrally Democratic conservative areas which pulls down even a fairly non-controversial conservative like Beshear. In Mississippi, I was a bit surprised by Bryant’s big win, given that even Barbour hadn’t done that well in 2007, though granted maybe Barbour’s opponent being a white good ol’ boy played a role in retrospect.
Democrats won all downballot offices in Kentucky except GOP-held AgCommish, where the wonderfully name Bob Farmer (D) did very badly. Besides that, only the Treasurer contest was narrow. In Mississippi, Democrats held their AG office but lost all others handily to Republicans.
State legislative elections took place in Mississippi, Virginia and New Jersey. In Mississippi, it appears as if Republicans have narrowly gained control of the House with 62 against 60 Democrats, making Arkansas’ State House the last remaining Democratic-controlled lower house in the Confederacy. The MS GOP also held their narrow hold on the Senate. In New Jersey, Democrats held their 24-16 Senate majority and gained a seat from the Republicans (effect of redistricting) in the General Assembly. This is a bit of a blow for Governor Chris Christie (R) who had campaigned for some GOP candidates. In Virginia, the GOP held the House but it seems as if the Democratic-controlled Senate will be going to a 20-20 tie broken by a GOP Lt. Governor but with committees split equally. In Iowa, Democrats easily held SD-18 in a special election which maintains their narrow 26-24 edge in the chamber. In Arizona and Michigan, two incumbent GOP legislators were yanked out of office by recalls.
Initiatives were the interesting things this year.
In Ohio, the big thing was Issue 2 which was about a Republican bill which limited collective bargaining for public employees. The issue, opposed by various unions, went down big. 61.3% voted no, repealing the bill. It is a particularly bad defeat for Ohio Governor John Kasich (R), and judging from the map a lot of Republicans in rural old working-class areas in the Ohio Valley voted with Democrats against Issue 2.
In Mississippi, I was particularly interested by Initiative 26, which would have defined the term ‘person’ as including “every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof”, or in other words a measure which would render abortion illegal given that the USSC in Roe vs. Wade had ruled against Wade because they found that Wade’s definition of a fetus as a person lacked the constitutional and judicial precedent, failing to establish that personhood applied to the unborn. What Mississippi’s law would have done is unclear, as state law cannot overrule federal law. Civil liberty groups such as the ACLU had already prepared to take the matter to court. I expected the issue to carry the day pretty easily: this is Mississippi, a conservative and religious state, not Vermont or Oregon. Apparently, the No on 26 campaign was far more successful than expected and the implications of a yes vote on 26 cooled some voters away from supporting the bill. The issue was rejected 58-42, a margin far bigger than expected even in the last days (a PPP poll gave it as yes +1 in the final days). Apparently, the No on 26 benefited from some much heavier than expected black opposition to the issue – the No vote was by far highest in black counties but carried the day in more racially mixed central Mississippi and only passed in northeastern Mississippi (Appalachian Foothills), a more heavily white and Evangelical area. If such an issue can’t pass in Mississippi, where can it pass?
In Maine, something restoring same-day voter registration also passed.
Overall, stability prevailed and voters played it very moderate and cautious. Too radical measures like Issue 2 or Initiative 26 were rejected. Popular incumbents were returned, regardless of partisan affiliation. Democrats might have pulled out the strongest of the night, with only VA-Sen as a major black eye but a string of victories in KY-Gov, OH-Issue 2, NJ-Leg and IA-SD18. That being said, Republicans could claim victory as well with their victories in Virginia. Once again, who won depends on who you ask.