In a bit of a surprise, former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Kentucky today, winning just over the 40% of the vote necessary to avoid a runoff. He enters the general election contest as a heavy favorite over scandal-plagued Republican incumbent Ernie Fletcher, who easily beat former U.S. Rep. Anne Northrup for the GOP nomination.Until very recently, Beshear trailed self-funded businessman Bruce Lunsford in most polls, and even after pulling ahead in the stretch run, was expected to face a runoff. The Louisville Courier-Journal credited Beshear’s late momentum to his endorsement by State Treasurer Jonathan Miller, who withdrew from the race two weeks ago. (Miller happens to be a friend of mine and a long-time DLC activist. If he couldn’t win, I’m glad he made a decisive difference in the race by withdrawing. He’s still under 40, and will be heard from in the future, I’m sure). If you’ve been following the race, you may know that Lunsford’s early lead in the polls gave a lot of Democrats heartburn, in no small part because of his endorsement of Fletcher in 2003 after he ended his own campaign that year. Tonight Lunsford endorsed Beshear relatively early in the evening, and said he’d withdraw if Beshear missed the 40% threshold. Beshear’s running-mate is Dr. Dan Mongiardo, who nearly upset Republican Sen. Jim Bunning in 2004. Fletcher also won his primary on a burst of late momentum, having trailed Northrup–who was endorsed by Bunning and by Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell–in most early polls. But few observers think he can win the general election, after compiling an ethics record that would embarrass Jack Abramoff. So it’s looking good for Kentucky to turn blue this November.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
Watching an intra-Democratic argument on voting rights strategy intensify in Washington, I offered some advice to both sides at New York:
There has been an underlying disagreement within the mostly Democratic coalition favoring voting rights that was nicely captured in this New York Times report on Friday:
“A quiet divide between President Biden and the leaders of the voting rights movement burst into the open on Thursday, as 150 organizations urged him to use his political mettle to push for two expansive federal voting rights bills that would combat a Republican wave of balloting restrictions … In private calls with voting rights groups and civil rights leaders, White House officials and close allies of the president have expressed confidence that it is possible to ‘out-organize voter suppression,’ according to multiple people familiar with the conversations.”
Both sides in this argument are partly wrong. Those who expect Joe Biden to force the For the People Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Act through the Senate via some major revision in the ability to filibuster are probably expecting the impossible. Yes, perhaps if Biden personally and insistently and abrasively lobbied Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema to abandon her very consistent defense of the filibuster, up to and including encouragement of a primary challenge to her when she is up for reelection in 2024, she might decide her current and very insistent independent-maverick “branding” isn’t going to keep working for her. But Joe Manchin? He would be thrilled to get attacked by a Democratic president or Democratic advocacy groups for insisting that he won’t support voting-rights measures unless at least some Republicans support them. His state is so very red that the threat of a primary challenge to the sole remaining successful West Virginia Democrat is a laugher.
Short of a nuclear attack on West Virginia, it’s hard to identify anything Biden might do to Manchin that wouldn’t run a high risk of backfiring. And he does need Manchin on the reconciliation bills Democrats are using to get around the filibuster to enact Biden’s social and economic agenda. It’s just too bad voting-rights bills don’t qualify for reconciliation.
Yes, it is intensely frustrating that Biden cannot bring himself to come out forthrightly for filibuster reform, but it probably doesn’t matter since it is not happening unless the Democratic Senate Conference gets bigger, making senators like Manchin and Sinema irrelevant on the subject. So at some point voting-rights advocates need to focus on that goal.
At the same time, White House claims that Democrats can “out-organize voter suppression” are partially wrong as well. Yes, restrictive provisions like voter-ID requirements, limits on voting by mail, and even voter-roll purges can be countered and perhaps overcome by intensive efforts to educate and energize the voters Republicans are trying to keep from the polls. But you cannot out-organize a partisan gerrymander, or a law that lets election officials or state legislators overturn the outcome of an election after votes are cast.
Voting-rights advocates will eventually have to play the cards dealt to them by the system as it currently exists. That means refraining from too much anger aimed at Democratic pols who have little choice but to concede defeat on some legislation and concentrate on legislation (i.e., those reconciliation bills with many items vital to the people whose voting rights are also under attack) they can enact with no margin for error in the Senate and little in the House. At the same time, Biden and his staff and Democratic “pragmatists” in Congress should never for a moment be cavalier about the legislative obstacles they face in defending democracy itself. They may have to accept a tactical defeat on voting rights in this Congress. But they should never, ever, give up on making it happen later if not sooner.