If the 2015 races say anything about the playing field next year, Democrats are not in a particularly strong position, and Republicans were less successful than they could have been. As an off year, 2015 had no Senate races and only three special congressional elections to fill vacancies.

All three of which were a wash for Democrats, particularly New York’s 11th district, which should have been competitive due to the relatively even makeup of the district and scandals related to the seats former Republican Congressman.

The 2015 Gubernatorial races, however, were something of a mixed bag. In Mississippi, Governor Phil Bryant routed his Democratic opponent truck driver Robert Gray in the lowest Democratic turnout in at least 16 years.

Kentucky, meanwhile, was a major victory for Republicans. While Kentucky has been a reliably Republican state, during Presidential elections, the Democratic Party has largely dominated state government.

If the recent governor’s race was any indication though, Republicans may well be reversing this status quo. In a surprising victory, the ultra-conservative Matt Bevin pulled off a comfortable lead with seemingly everything stacked against him.

His Democratic opponent Jack Conway was young, handsome, and a scandal-free Attorney General with arguably a more conservative record then Kentucky’s current Democratic Governor. In an even more surprising turn of events, Democrats proved victorious in the Louisiana Governor’s race.

Conservative Democrat John Bel Edwards pulled off the seemingly impossible: becoming the first Democrat to win a Governor’s race in the deep south in quite some time. However, Edward’s victory had more to do with his opponent’s sex scandal involving prostitution coming back to haunt him, rather than an upsurge in Democratic support.

As such, Democrats have to turn to the down ballot races, such as the New Jersey General Assembly, adding Democratic seats, or Pennsylvania Democrats gaining a majority of the state’s’ Supreme Court to find much to be hopeful about in 2015. The results were not entirely gloom and doom though.

A Democratic victory in Louisiana proves the party can still be competitive in the south, provided Republicans have a flawed candidate and their own nominee has some crossover appeal to conservatives.

Other Democrats also illustrated the ability to appeal to just enough independents or conservatives to survive.
Democrats held onto offices like the Attorney General of Kentucky and Mississippi, and a potential rising star in the Democratic Party, Allison Grimes, held onto her post of Secretary of State in Kentucky.

As such, Democrats should count their blessings as they had a very real chance of totally being removed from the board. The handful of Democratic successes mostly came down to local factors and does little to counter the conventional wisdom that the party is verging on extinction south of the Mason-Dixon line. While not a total rout, this is not the sort of record Democrats would have liked to go into 2016 with. It shows that Republicans may well have the momentum going into next year.

Kevin Spann
Political Columnist

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