Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The State of the Governors

One of the surprisingly strong challengers: Mary Burke (D-WI)

If there is a silver lining for the Democrats in 2014 (and lord knows they’re looking for one), it’s the gubernatorial elections.  Time and again it’s been pointed out that even if the Republicans have a decent night on election night, it could well be a net gain for the Democrats when it comes to the state houses.

It’s been quite difficult, in fact, to gage a lot of the state races in recent weeks.  A slew of polls have shown oddly close races in places like Georgia and Kansas, despite their strong Republicans leans, whereas Obama states like New Mexico and Ohio continue to show sizable margins for their Republican incumbents.  Therefore, while I put only ten below (because this isn’t a list of all of the competitive races, just the ten most likely to flip), there is potential for a state like Georgia to finds its way onto the list (I’d have it at 11th) or for a state like Massachusetts even to start closing if the Republican wave starts taking up with the governor’s races.  That being said, let’s head to the ten seats (number one being the most likely to switch hands).

Rep. Mark Schauer (D-MI)
10. Michigan

Gov. Rick Snyder (R) continues to be the slight favorite here, but polling has shown a tightening race in Michigan.  The real question continues to be how the economy in the state proceeds, and also whether or not the federal Democratic machine will have an effect here.  Michigan’s Senate race continues to be a major source of money and resources from both national Senate committees, which likely will help Democratic Rep. Mark Schauer, since the Democrats appear poised to win that seat.  The higher the turnout in this blue state, the better for the Democrats.

9. Colorado

Gov. John Hickenlooper has not had an easy first term in office.  Coming in as a popular mayor and the type of candidate that could develop a national profile someday, Hickenlooper has been saddled with some tough bills, particularly the gun control legislation he signed into law that cost two Democratic state senators their seats in the legislature.  Polls have shown an extremely close race here, and Hickenlooper could well lose to former Rep. Bob Beauprez.  This race will largely be determined by how many Hispanic voters Hickenlooper can turnout in a state where they are a crucial voting bloc.

8. Wisconsin

One of two major surprises on this list, Wisconsin shouldn’t be a competitive state in theory.  Scott Walker has the advantage of not only winning the state in 2010, but also in a badly-run recall election two years ago, and the Democrats had to punt to find a candidate here.  However, self-funder Mary Burke has done a good job at remaining Teflon and running a very business-minded campaign, not falling into the losing trap of running on labor as her key platform issue (labor is going to be backing her no matter what in light of Walker’s stances on unions).  Polling has shown an extraordinarily tight race, and Scott Walker would do well to remember the case of Roy Barnes in 2002-you can’t run for president if you just lost your reelection.

7. Kansas

Easily the most bizarre race of the year, Kansans are absolutely livid at Gov. Sam Brownback, and even in a sharply red state that may be enough to boot him from office.  The state is expected to be $238 million in the red by the end of 2016, and matchup polls between Brownback and house Minority Leader Paul Davis are awful for the GOP, with Davis in some cases having a double digit lead on the former senator.  The only reason this is outside the Top 5 is that it is so difficult to imagine (in these partisan times) a state this staunchly conservative heading to the Democrats.  If polling continues like this in the race, though, Kansas will move up the list in our next installment.

Gov. Dan Malloy (D-CT)
6. Connecticut

With this past week’s primaries done, the Republicans have gotten the rematch that they were hoping for between incumbent Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy and Ambassador Tom Foley.  Malloy won in 2010 by less than a percentage point and has had abysmal approval ratings in office.  This is sort of the inverse of Kansas, where Malloy is being buoyed more because of the state’s natural tilt toward the Democrats than anything else, but unlike Kansas, Malloy’s numbers haven’t fallen as hard as Brownback’s.  Still, given the environment this year, I’m putting the vulnerable Democrat in front of the equally vulnerable Republican.

5. Florida

This is the hardest-to-read race of the ten.  On the one hand, former Gov. Charlie Crist continues to rake in mountains of money and seems to be out-campaigning, and frequently, out-polling incumbent Gov. Rick Scott (R).  On the other, though, only the most partisan of people would claim that Scott hasn’t gained serious ground here in the past few months and this race, which looked at one point like Crist’s to lose, is the definition of a tossup.  Expect the entire cavalcade of Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls to descend on this race in the coming months, as there is no state more important to 2016’s math than Florida.

Bruce Rauner (R-IL)
4. Illinois

I’m starting to sense a theme here.  There’s quite a few vulnerable Democrats and Republicans that are hanging on in the polls simply because their home states favor them on a federal level.  Gov. Pat Quinn
(D) basically only has that going for him at this point, as he is wildly unpopular and probably would have gone down in a primary.  Quinn is a very gifted politician, though, and I’m not totally discounting him this far out, particularly considering that this is a strong blue state and Bruce Rauner (a millionaire venture capitalist) is a Republican opponent that will be easy to paint as out-of-touch.  Definitely a race to watch, and I suspect the GOP may take it, but I’m not entirely sold yet.

3. Maine

This is definitely a conundrum for the Democrats.  On paper, Gov. Paul LePage (R) should be number one on this list.  Deeply controversial and very unpopular, it seems nearly impossible that such a man could win in such a progressive state against an incumbent congressman like Mike Michaud.  And yet, thanks to Independent candidate Eliot Cutler, this could be a repeat of 2010 where Cutler takes enough progressive votes to hand LePage the election.  Michaud is a stronger candidate than the Democrats had in 2010, but the math is there-LePage can win this with 38% of the vote if the left splits their hand too much.

2. Arkansas

The Democrats certainly tried to hold Gov. Mike Beebe’s (D) seat, getting the best candidate they could muster in former Rep. Mike Ross, who has run a helluva campaign.  However, this is a state where President Obama is toxic, and if Mark Pryor cannot win a seat that his family has never lost, I doubt that Ross will be able to hold off former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, who after multiple tries, will finally succeed to higher office.

1. Pennsylvania

Democrats in other states should take note of the PA race-this is how you take down a Republican incumbent in swift order in a blue state.  Wildly unpopular Gov. Tom Corbett has abysmal approval ratings and awful match-up numbers after going too far to the right in his first term in office.  Former Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf stands to benefit as a result, and history could be broken here: no incumbent governor of Pennsylvania (which was an original colony) has ever lost reelection.

And those are my top ten most likely to switch-what are your thoughts?  Who is too high/low, and who should be added?  Share in the comments!

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