Elections in NJ, 3 other states to offer preview of 2020 voter enthusiasm

( Photo by Arnaud Jaegers/Unsplash )

Gubernatorial and legislative elections in four states Tuesday will test voter enthusiasm and party organization amid impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump and a fevered Democratic presidential primary scramble.

Results in Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia won’t necessarily predict whether Trump will be reelected or which party will control Congress after the general election next fall. But partisans of all stripes invariably will use these odd-year elections for clues about how voters are reacting to the impeachment saga and whether the Republican president is losing ground among suburban voters who rewarded Democrats in the 2018 midterms and will prove critical again next November.

Trump is eager to nationalize whatever happens, campaigning Monday evening in Kentucky for embattled Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, a first-term Trump ally, as he tries to withstand Democrat Andy Beshear, the attorney general whose father was the state’s last Democratic governor. The president campaigned in Mississippi on Friday, trying to boost Republican Tate Reeves in a tight governor’s race against Democrat Jim Hood. Reeves is lieutenant governor; Hood is attorney general.

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Legislative seats are on the ballots in New Jersey and in Virginia, with the latter presidential battleground state offering perhaps the best 2020 bellwether. Democrats had a big 2017 in the state, sweeping statewide offices by wide margins and gaining seats in the legislature largely on the strength of a strong suburban vote that previewed how Democrats would go on to flip the U.S. House a year later. This time, Virginia Democrats are looking to add to their momentum by flipping enough Republican seats to gain trifecta control of the statehouse: meaning the governor’s office and both legislative chambers.

In New Jersey, Democrats are looking to maintain their legislative supermajorities and ward off any concerns that Trump and Republicans could widen their reach into Democratic-controlled areas.

Both parties see reasons for confidence.

“With a Democratic Party engaged in a race to the left and promoting an increasingly radical impeachment agenda, the choice for voters is extremely clear,” said Amelia Chase of the Republican Governors Association, predicting victories for Kentucky’s Bevin and Mississippi’s Reeves.

Yet Democrats point to their expanded party infrastructure in states like Virginia and believe it positions them to capitalize on the GOP’s embrace of a president with job approval ratings below 40%.