3/5/19 Special Elections Preview
Kentucky State Senate District 31 (Democratic Defense)
Candidates: Darrell Pugh (D), Phillip Wheeler (R)
Overview: We start on the Eastern border of Kentucky near West Virginia, in an ancestrally Democratic coalfields district. The seat opened up when incumbent Ray Jones resigned to become a judge in Pikeville. Democrats have held this seat for decades and still hold a strong registration advantage, but like much of the area, this district has shifted hard to the right nationally in the past few years, with Donald Trump winning by a massive 80–18 margin here. However, the outcome is still up in the air, as Democrats have a downballot advantage here. Jones hasn’t even faced a Republican opponent during his 18 year tenure in the Senate. As a result, both parties are cautiously optimistic about this race. The Democrats have a strong candidate in real estate agent Darrell Pugh. Pugh is running on a populist message, running as pro-life and pro-coal amendment, while also slamming education cuts made by Republican Governor Matt Bevin. His main attack on his opponent, Republican attorney Phillip Wheeler, has been calling him a puppet of Bevin who will bow down to the unpopular administration. Wheeler is also a strong candidate, however, and definitely has some populist ties, having spent a lot of time filing lawsuits on behalf of coal miners who have developed black lung. The Kentucky GOP has focused their attacks on painting Pugh as too in line with the agenda of Nancy Pelosi. Both candidates could win this race by large margins, and it should be considered a tossup at this point.
Rating and Prediction: We rate this seat as a Tossup. I’ll say Wheeler wins by 4.
Rhode Island House of Representatives District 68 (Democratic/Independent Defense, Incumbent Running)
Candidates: Kenneth Marshall (I, incumbent), June Speakman (D), James McCanna III (I), William Hunt Jr. (L)
Overview: We now move to the seaside town of Bristol, Rhode Island, located on a peninsula between the rest of Rhode Island and the coastal city of Fall River, Massachusetts. The circumstances behind this special election for a seat that isn’t even vacant are very hard to explain, but I’ll give it a shot. The mess all started in 2018, when incumbent Democrat Kenneth Marshall decided not to run because of campaign finance violations. Young upstart progressive Laufton Ascensao won the primary and the general and looked set to take his seat. However, he got in trouble with the local Democratic party for faking invoices to prove he had sent mailers supporting other Democratic candidates which he in fact had never sent. He hadn’t actually done anything illegal, but the Rhode Island Democratic party strongly pressured him into refusing to be sworn in to his seat. A special election was set, but things took a stranger turn when Marshall appealed with the Secretary of State to remain in the seat until the election, which was agreed to. Marshall then decided to seek the seat as an independent, blasting the local Democratic party for being too far left in the process, although as far as I can tell he is still serving as a Democrat in the legislature right now. Moving ahead to the specifics of this election, college professor June Speakman is the Democratic nominee after winning her primary fairly easily. She has a significant fundraising advantage, with 3 times more cash spent than the other candidates. Her top rival will be Marshall, who will need a broad coalition of moderate Democrats and Republicans to have a shot in a district where Hillary Clinton won 56–38. Marshall will also be hurt by the presence of William Hunt Jr., a Libertarian who was Ascensao’s only rival last November, who will take away much needed Republican votes from him. Another independent, James McCanna III is more of a longshot. For more info on the circumstances behind the elections, check out this article from Matt Booker of liberal blog Daily Kos: https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2019/3/4/1839287/-This-bizarre-Rhode-Island-race-features-a-special-election-for-a-seat-that-isn-t-even-vacant.
Rating and Prediction: We rate this election as Safe D. I’ll say Speakman wins with 55% of the vote.
Texas House of Representatives District 145 (Democratic Defense)
Candidates: Christina Morales (D), Melissa Noriega (D)
Overview: We move to Houston for the final contest of the night, a runoff between two Democrats in a deeply blue district. This is a pretty even contest, and either of the two candidates could win in what will definitely be a very even contest to replace Carol Alvarado, who was elected to the State Senate in another special election. Funeral home Director Christina Morales took a narrow 36–31 lead in the first round of voting, helped by endorsements from Alvarado and US Representative Sylvia Garcia. However, former City Councilwoman Melissa Noriega is definitely a threat, especially given her 8 month term in this seat in 2005 when her husband Rick, then the Representative for the district, was in Afghanistan.
Prediction: Christina Morales wins with 55% of the vote.