Republicans have a chance to flip two governors' mansions in red states this November as Democrats try to hold the line and are hopeful for one upset.
Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi — all states that went double-digits in favor of Donald Trump against Joe Biden in the last two presidential elections — elect governors in 2023.
"Kentucky and Louisiana both present opportunities for the citizens to elect a Republican governor that better represents the values of those states," Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association, told Fox News Digital.
Two states could have their first elected Black governor, while another state’s contest is reminding voters of celebrities Elvis Presley and Brett Favre.
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"Kentucky is the most competitive of the three, which we rank as a toss-up," Jacob Rubashkin, an analyst with Inside Elections, told Fox News Digital. "The others either lean or are likely Republican. But all could develop into highly competitive contests."
After disappointing 2022 midterms, a strong showing in off-year governors’ races would be welcome news for the GOP, but there is a tendency to overhype off-year elections, he said.
"Republicans would love to go into 2024 with victories under their belt," Rubashkin added. "But after the Republican candidate for governor won in Virginia in 2021 and almost won in New Jersey, some people thought it was a harbinger for a big red wave in the midterms. That didn’t bear out in 2022,"
Kentucky Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has a 61% approval rating, according to a late January Mason-Dixon poll that showed him decisively leading four of the 12 Republicans competing for their party’s nomination in a May 16 primary. The two leading GOP candidates are Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Trump’s former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft.
While Inside Elections ranks the Kentucky governor’s race a toss-up, the Cook Political Report ranks it as "lean Democrat."
An Emerson College/Fox 56 WDKY poll last week found Cameron leading with 30%, followed by Craft at 24% and Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles at 15%. Cameron could become the state’s first Black governor, while Craft could be the state’s second woman governor.
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Beshear is from a political dynasty, the son of former Gov. Steve Beshear. A former state attorney general, the younger Beshear defeated incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin in 2019.
"Gov. Andy Beshear has built his own brand of caring and showing up, whether it’s helping people after floods in Eastern Kentucky or tornados in Western Kentucky," Sam Newton, spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association, told Fox News Digital.
"Kentucky has record-low unemployment. Contrast that with 12 Republicans running. Kelly Craft is spending millions on attack ads saying Daniel Cameron is soft like a teddy bear. … Republicans are beating each other up and tearing each other down."
Policies could cut against Beshear, said Scarpinato of the RGA.
"Andy Beshear has made decisions out of step with Kentuckians, whether it’s vetoing a transgender bill or his COVID-19 policies, where he shut down churches," Scarpinato said.
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The advantage could shift when Republicans likely unite after the primary, said Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky.
"A Republican opponent could get voters to think of Beshear not as a person but as a representative of the Democratic Party," Voss said. "But that is a lot easier to do in a Senate race than in a governor’s race. … The state is Republican enough that you can never rule out a GOP nominee despite the fact that Beshear is popular. It is a long time between now and November. It could be something neither candidate can control. Will the nation focus on national events? Will the focus shift to cultural issues?"
Both Inside Elections and the Cook Political Report rank Louisiana as "lean Republican."
Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards is term-limited, so the state with the so-called jungle primary is going to be for an open seat.
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Most Democrats in the state are backing Bel Edwards’ former Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson. Attorney General Jeff Landry is the leading Republican, who the party formally endorsed in November 2022.
However, other Republicans are running in the state’s jungle primary. These include state Treasurer John Schroder and state Senate Majority Leader Sharon Hewitt.
Unlike the current moderate Democrat, Wilson could be too liberal for Louisiana, Scarpinato said.
"In Louisiana, it’s an open seat, which gives us a strong chance, and the Democratic candidate is a progressive Democrat that does not fit the state," Scarpinato said.
There may be more candidates on both sides, as the filing deadline is not until Aug. 10. In Louisiana, all the candidates compete in the same Oct. 14 primary. If no candidate wins 50% of the vote, the top two have a runoff regardless of party affiliation in the general election, which will be Nov. 18.
"The jungle primary does complicate outcomes in Louisiana politics," said Voss, the University of Kentucky professor who is a native of Louisiana, where he was formerly a political reporter and state Senate staffer. "Unlike Kentucky, Louisiana is more partisan and more in favor of Republicans. Any Democrat will have a hard time."
A JMC Analytics poll last month showed Wilson at 29% and Landry at 28%. Other candidates were far behind.
If victorious in November, Wilson would be Louisiana’s first elected Black governor. The former Confederate state had two Black governors during Reconstruction. Oscar Dunn, a Republican, was the first Black man ever elected as lieutenant governor in 1868. He became acting governor when Gov. Henry Clay Warmouth, a Republican, was injured in 1871. That same year, Dunn died under mysterious circumstances. So, another African American, P.B.S. Pinchback, moved from state Senate president to the lieutenant governor’s job. In 1872, when Warmouth faced impeachment, Pinchback assumed office as acting governor.
The race is set with GOP Gov. Tate Reeves facing Democratic opponent Brandon Presley, the second cousin to Elvis Presley.
Inside Elections and Cook Political Report each rank Mississippi as "likely Republican." Democrats are hopeful, as the race is surprisingly close, with Reeves leading with 46% to Presley’s 39%, according to a survey in a March by Magnolia Tribune/Mason-Dixon Polling.
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"Tate Reeves is deeply unpopular across party lines," Newton of the Democratic Governors Association said. "Brandon Presley has a record of winning in deep red areas because he is focused on fighting for working people in Mississippi."
Presley is a member of the Mississippi Public Service Commission, an elected three-member board that regulates utilities in the state. Previously, he was mayor of Nettleton.
In 2019, Reeves, as lieutenant governor, won 52% to defeat Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood.
The governor has been loosely named in the controversy surrounding the alleged misappropriation of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds that were redirected to unrelated purposes.
The state of Mississippi is now suing 38 people and companies, including retired NFL player Brett Favre, to attempt to reclaim $24 million out of the $77 million in federal welfare money. Favre helped raise money for the University of Southern Mississippi volleyball center. He has denied knowing a $5 million grant for the facility came from the welfare funds.
The relation to Elvis Presley is a net positive for the Democrat but won’t likely be decisive, Rubashkin said.
"At the national level, the last name is a hook for donors," Rubashkin said. "Within Mississippi, what’s more important is that his uncle was a sheriff and that he was mayor of Nettleton."