(Reuters) - Voters in two states will elect governors during off-year elections on Tuesday expected to net an easy win for the Republican incumbent in Mississippi, while Democrats hold an edge in a tight race for Kentucky’s open seat.
The partisan divides seen nationally over gay marriage and President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law have dominated a hotly contested race in Kentucky to replace Democratic Governor Steve Beshear, who cannot run because of term limits.
State Attorney General Jack Conway, the Democratic nominee, held a small lead over Republican Matt Bevin in two late October polls. Conway has championed continuing the expansion of Medicaid to provide health coverage to the poor under Obama’s health plan as started by the current governor.
Bevin opposes the expansion and has rallied conservatives with his support for Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed for five days in September after refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
Bevin won a four-way Republican primary by 83 votes with the backing of Tea Party conservatives. Yet Bevin, a businessman who has run against his party’s incumbents in the past, has lackluster support among establishment Republicans.
Although Kentucky voters routinely send Republicans to Washington, D.C., experts say Conway has the advantage going into election day given Democrats’ state-level strength. Only one Republican has been elected governor in Kentucky since 1971.
In Mississippi, polls show Governor Phil Bryant coasting to a second term in what could be a landslide. Similar big wins are expected for other the state’s Republican incumbents.
The biggest suspense on the ballot could be whether Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, one of the last surviving Democrats in statewide office in the Deep South, can fend off a tough challenge as he seeks a fourth term in office.
Louisiana will elect a governor later this month after no candidate secured a majority of the vote in the state’s open primary to replace Bobby Jindal, who is barred from a third term and is seeking the Republican presidential nomination.
The state’s Nov. 21 runoff pits Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter against Democrat John Bel Edwards, the minority leader in the state House.
Writing and reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Fla. Additional reporting by Steve Bittenbender in Louisville, Ky.; Editing by Bill Trott