Election 2015: Rundown of the State Races

From governors to treasurers, several states are voting on their leadership starting this weekend.
by | October 23, 2015
(TNS)

This is part of our 2015 elections coverage. Get more on ballot measures and races here.

Last Updated Oct. 29

Most Americans who are paying attention to politics today are focusing on the 2016 presidential race. But there are a bunch of state-level contests in 2015, many of them unpredictable due to expected low voter turnout.

Here’s a rundown.

Kentucky

In Kentucky, where Democrats currently hold most statewide offices, there are many competitive races this year.

At the top of the ballot, voters will fill the governor's seat being vacated by popular Democrat Steve Beshear. It’s a close race between Tea Party-aligned Republican Matt Bevin and outgoing Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway. (Read more on that race here.)

The attorney general (AG) slot Conway is giving up is also wide open. The contest pits Beshear’s son, Andy, against Republican Whitney Westerfield, who chairs the state Senate’s Judiciary Committee. Governing rated the AG race a tossup. (For the rest of the 2015-2016 AG race ratings, click here.)

In the secretary of state race, incumbent Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes -- the unsuccessful nominee against U.S. Senate Republican Mitch McConnell in 2014 -- faces a challenge from Republican Stephen Knipper, a health-care executive. A Mason-Dixon poll in early October found the race within the margin of error.

The race for state auditor is also tight. Incumbent Adam Edelen will face GOP state Rep. Mike Harmon. A recent Bluegrass Poll found Edelen with 35 percent of likely voters, Harmon with 33 percent and 27 percent undecided.

The incumbent state treasurer, Democrat Todd Hollenbach, is term-limited out, resulting in a race between former Democratic state Rep. Rick Nelson and Republican attorney Allison Ball. Recent polls show the contest within the margin of error.

The post of agriculture commissioner is open after James Comer gave up his post to run unsuccessfully in the GOP gubernatorial primary. The contest pits two candidates in their 30s -- Republican state Rep. Ryan Quarles and Democrat Jean-Marie Lawson Spann, an agribusiness executive and radio host. Unlike other statewide offices in Kentucky, Republicans have held the ag commissioner post for several terms, giving Quarles a leg up, though polls continue to show the race close.

Louisiana

Despite low approval ratings for outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal, this state is poised to elect Republicans to all statewide offices. An all-party primary election is set for Oct. 24, with runoffs on Nov. 21 if no candidate in the race gets 50 percent.

At the top of the ballot is an open-seat gubernatorial race that featured three Republicans -- U.S. Sen. David Vitter, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle -- and one Democrat, state Rep. John Bel Edwards, vying to succeed Jindal. U.S. Sen. David Vitter won the primary and will now face Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards in a Nov. 21 runoff.

Another contested race is for attorney general. Incumbent Republican Buddy Caldwell is facing a stiff challenge from Tea Party-aligned former U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry (and a weaker challenge from fellow Republican Marty Maley). Two Democrats -- Ike Jackson or Gerald “Geri” Broussard-Baloney -- are also running.

Of the five other statewide offices on the ballot this fall, only one contest is looking competitive -- the race for lieutenant governor. Three Republicans are in the race -- Jefferson Parish president John Young, former Plaquemines Parish president Billy Nungesser and state Sen. Elbert Guillory. The sole Democrat in the race is Kip Holden, the three-term mayor of Baton Rouge. A recent poll had Young at 27 percent, Holden at 27 percent, Nungesser at 22 percent and Guillory at 6 percent, with 17 percent undecided.

Polls favor incumbent Secretary of State Tom Schedler, a Republican, over Democrat Chris Tyson, a former aide to then-U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu as well as a lawyer and professor at Louisiana State University. But even if he loses, Tyson has a future as a Democratic politician.

Incumbent Republicans are easily ahead in three other races: John Kennedy for state treasurer, Michael Strain for agriculture commissioner and Jim Donelon for insurance commissioner.

Both chambers of the state legislature are also contested this year, but Republicans will likely maintain their majorities with ease. More than half have already been re-elected by acclamation. The only drama left is over who will be House speaker and chair the key committees.

Mississippi

Mississippi’s many Republican statewide incumbents will win re-election with ease on Nov. 3. These include the governor, Phil Bryant; the lieutenant governor, Tate Reeves; the secretary of state Delbert Hosemann; the state auditor, Stacey Pickering; the agriculture commissioner, Cindy Hyde-Smith and the insurance commissioner, Mike Chaney.

The one real contest involves the only remaining statewide Democratic incumbent in Mississippi -- Attorney General Jim Hood. Hood faces former federal prosecutor Mike Hurst in the general election. Governing has rated this contest a tossup.

New Jersey

All 80 of the seats in the New Jersey Assembly are contested this year. (The state Senate is not up this year.)

According to the Bergen Record, candidates are spending a lot of money, but a change in control looks unlikely. Currently, the Democrats have a 47-32 edge with one vacant seat in the Assembly, but the GOP probably can’t win the nine seats needed to flip the chamber, especially given the low approval rating of GOP Gov. Chris Christie.

Virginia

Both chambers of the Virginia state legislature are up on Election Day. The Republicans have a solid grip on the Assembly, but control of the closely divided state Senate could change.

Currently, the GOP has a 21-19 edge in the Senate. With the tie-breaking lieutenant governorship in Democratic hands, the Democrats need just one additional seat to gain control and give added leverage to Gov. Terry McAuliffe in his battles against legislative Republicans. The key seats being contested are those being vacated by two long-serving moderates -- Democrat Charles Colgan and Republican John Watkins.

This is part of our 2015 elections coverage. Get more on ballot measures and races here.