Sabato's Crystal Ball

2007 Gubernatorial Contests and Virginia General Assembly Update

Larry J. Sabato and David Wasserman, Director, U.Va. Center for Politics November 1st, 2007

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Kentucky Governor

From the very first posting on the Crystal Ball for the governorship race in Kentucky this year, we predicted that Governor Ernie Fletcher would be very unlikely to be reelected. Absolutely nothing has happened all year long to change our prediction, and we stick with it.

We rather suspect that any Democrat would have won, but former Lieutenant Governor Steve Beshear has fit the bill for the Democrats rather well. He has avoided most controversies, and kept the focus on the corruption issue, which has proven to be Fletcher’s undoing. As of September, Beshear led Fletcher by 20 points in statewide polling. We do not believe that the race will even be particularly close, and we would expect a very sizable victory by Steve Beshear. Obviously, this is a Democratic pickup.

What does this imply for 2008? Not very much, though you will never believe it from the commentary that will follow a Beshear victory. Kentucky is still a Red state, and unless there is a Democratic landslide afoot for 2008, it is still likely to vote Republican presidentially. Of course, we remember that Bill Clinton carried Kentucky in both 1992 and 1996, though the vote for Ross Perot was an assist in both years (winning 45 percent to George H. W. Bush‘s 41 percent and Perot’s 14 percent in 1992, and 46 percent to Bob Dole‘s 45 percent and Perot’s 9 percent in 1996). Certainly, having a Democratic governor will be of some modest help to the Democratic presidential candidate, but we will revisit this question once we know the identity of the Democratic candidate as well as the shape of the issues that will produce the November 2008 winner.

No doubt, speculation will suggest that Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican Minority Leader, may face difficulties on account of Beshear’s win. We rather doubt it, though we reserve judgment until we see the name of the Democratic nominee. McConnell has already socked away a great deal of money, and there is no one shrewder in politics than he, so any Democratic candidate will have an uphill battle.

Mississippi Governor

It doesn’t take an acute political analyst to predict the easy reelection of Haley Barbour over Democrat John Arthur Eaves. Barbour has never been in trouble, having been perceived as doing a very good job after Hurricane Katrina–in contrast to Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco. Despite Eaves’s appeals to religious fundamentalists (a fairly unique strategy for a Democratic candidate), he still trails Barbour by double digits in the polls. Nothing significant has changed, and this contest will be over very early in the evening.

Louisiana Governor

The Crystal Ball was correct in its prediction that Bobby Jindal would be elected Governor of Louisiana, which he did in handsome fashion, winning 54 percent of the vote against 12 other candidates on October 20. With Jindal carrying a majority of the vote, no runoff is needed in November. As a result, Jindal has an extra month to prepare to assume the governorship at the tender age of 36, which, by the way, will make him the youngest currently-serving governor in the United States.

Jindal has two difficult challenges. First, he must continue and accelerate the recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Second, he must root out the deep corruption which afflicts the Bayou State, if he can. Should Jindal be successful in both these tasks, and should he serve two terms as Governor, we would expect that he would find his way onto a GOP national ticket before too many election cycles go by.

As we have said many times in the Crystal Ball, whites will be no more than 50.1 percent of the population by the year 2050, and they may well be a minority. The Republican Party has simply not been able to attract many minorities–African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Asian Americans, etc.–to its banner so far, and unless it does so it is headed for permanent minority status itself. Jindal’s election gives the GOP reason for some hope. It will not be long before tickets consisting of two white males will be a thing of the past in both major political parties.

Virginia General Assembly

New Hampshire, Colorado, and a few other states can arguably be said to have moved the furthest across the spectrum from Republican to Democrat over the past decade or so, but Virginia has moved a good ways too. In fact, it is remarkable to consider the degree to which the Old Dominion has switched from Red to Purple. It is still not a Blue state, despite having had two consecutive Democratic governors and having elected Jim Webb to the US Senate in 2006, but the trend is undeniable.

The latest in this long line of advances for the Democratic Party may well occur on November 6, when all 140 seats in the Virginia General Assembly are up for election. It is difficult to project precisely, but just about everybody on both sides of the aisle believes that Democrats will pick up seats in both houses.

Right now, the Republicans outnumber the Democrats in the House 57 to 40, with 3 Independents, and 23 to 17 in the Senate. The Democrats will have great difficulty taking control of the House given the Republican’s current margin of control, but they should pick up several seats. In the Senate, Democrats have a decent shot to take control by picking up a minimum of 4 seats (if they only pick up three, to make it 20-20, ties would be broken by Republican Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling).

Many of the Republican seats that are most threatened are in Northern Virginia, which has been the source of Democratic gubernatorial victories in 2001 and 2005 as well as Webb’s upset win in 2006. Remarkably, in Northern Virginia, the main issue is not any state-related topic but President Bush and the Iraq War, both of which are enormously unpopular in those precincts. Republican candidates have told the Crystal Ball that Bush and Iraq are the heaviest weights around their necks.


(Special thanks to Isaac Wood, Paul Wiley, S.W. Dawson and Bobby Dressel for their contributions to these reports.)