Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

2019 Elections Being Closely Watched To See What They May Signal For 2020


Tomorrow is Election Day. It is an off-year election but will be closely watched to see what it may signal for the 2020 elections. NPR national correspondent Sarah McCammon joins me from Virginia Beach, Va. That is one of the key states where voters will be casting ballots. Hi, Sarah.


KELLY: All right, so you're in Virginia. You live in Virginia. Why don't we start there? What's at stake?

MCCAMMON: Yeah. So Democrats made huge gains here in 2017, fresh off the Trump election, of course, in 2016. Republicans are still narrowly in control of both chambers of the statehouse, and they're trying to hold on to that, but Democrats are very hopeful that they can take over. They point to 2017 and also to gains in 2018 nationally as signs that they have the momentum. And there's been a lot of spending in these races, and a lot of it from national groups on behalf of both sides on issues like gun control and abortion, among others.

KELLY: And as a reminder of the stakes, you've had some big names dropping by, campaigning as Election Day approaches. Who's been showing up?

MCCAMMON: Right. Several Democratic presidential candidates have been to Virginia, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders today and former Vice President Joe Biden yesterday. And this election is being framed, really, by both sides as something bigger than just Virginia. You know, Virginia used to be more of a swing state. It's still kind of seen as a bellwether in these off-year elections, although it's been trending blue recently. But yesterday in Northern Virginia, former Vice President Biden said this election is about much more than just the Virginia General Assembly.


JOE BIDEN: But this, in a sense, is all about Trump, folks. Look; the fact is that now we have to win again. We have to win again in '20. You have to win again in 2019, the off year. You really have to do it. But you'll determine what's going to happen in 2020.

KELLY: All right. So that's what the Democrats have been up to. What about on the Republican side?

MCCAMMON: Right. So Vice President Mike Pence was here in Virginia Beach over the weekend, and he, too, had a similar message for Republicans that this is about something more. This is about looking ahead. Pence told the crowd that Virginia should, quote, "send a message to Washington, D.C., that enough is enough."


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: And that Virginia is tired of their analysts, investigations and partisan impeachment. If you want to send a message to the do-nothing Democrats that the people of Virginia and America support President Donald Trump, then vote Republican.

MCCAMMON: Mary Louise, I should mention President Trump has also been visiting a couple of the other states that are holding elections this week. He went to Mississippi last week. He campaigns in Kentucky tonight. Those, of course, are red states, where he's pretty popular. And he has not campaigned here in Virginia ahead of this election, which, again, is a purple state that's been trending blue.

KELLY: Sarah, let me flip you back to Mississippi, Kentucky - some of those other states.


KELLY: There are a handful that are electing governors and other statewide officials. Which races are you keeping an eye on?

MCCAMMON: So quickly, New Jersey is also holding some legislative elections this year. Democrats are expected to hang on to control there. The question is just by how much. And there are a few governors' races. In Kentucky, Republican Governor Matt Bevin is among the least popular governors in the nation. He's known for clashing with teachers unions, among other things. He's running against Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear. That race looks close. Mississippi - there's no incumbent in the Republican - in the governor's race. The incumbent Republican is term-limited out. That race looks close, too, between the Republican lieutenant governor and the Democratic attorney general. President Trump, of course, was in both of those states.

And one more thing I should mention - Louisiana is also holding a gubernatorial election this year, but not until November 16.

KELLY: OK. So a little bit of time to wait for Louisiana. And back to this question, the central question of how much we can read into what's going to happen this month that may tell us about 2020, how much can we glean from tomorrow's votes?

MCCAMMON: Yeah. So prognosticators will, of course, pay attention. And you can certainly expect both parties will tout their successes as a sign that the tide is turning their way, whatever those successes are. Democrats tell me they're feeling really confident again because of the last couple of years that they've seen.

Republicans seem a bit more reserved, especially here in Virginia. Some party leaders have been reticent to talk to me when I've asked for interviews about what they're expecting. But at the rally this weekend, Vice President Pence and other Republican leaders talked up the strong economic numbers we've been seeing, told voters to be sure to show up both tomorrow and in 2020.

But it's important to remember that these are just a handful of elections in a handful of states. It'll give us a snapshot of what's happening in a year when there's really low turnout in off-year elections. But we are still a year away from 2020, and a lot could still change between now and then.

KELLY: That is NPR's Sarah McCammon taking the snapshot there from Virginia Beach. Thank you, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Yeah. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.