Monday, October 19, 2015

The State of the Governors

Attorney General Jack Conway (D-KY) has caught a lot of breaks this
cycle-will they pay off when it counts in November?
In a presidential cycle, it's easy to forget the governor's races.  The White House is the game that everyone is going to play, and if we aren't talking that Congress is definitely up for discussion; the Senate is a 50/50 proposition for both parties and considering the hell that's been wreaked on the House Republicans who knows what will happen if a few more moderates lose to Democrats giving the Freedom Caucus even more control.  These are the topics every pundit is discussing, but there are still critically-important governor's races, as the states seem to have taken a huge foothold of power in recent years and that's where so much legislation has been happening against the backdrop of a do-nothing Congress.  From Kansas to Maryland states have become testing grounds for a number of different initiatives for the governors, and as a result the men and women who take over there are going to have a lot of power.  So even though it's less than a third of the governorships, it's still worth watching who will be in charge.  Listed below I do just that, ranking the five seats most likely to switch hands in 2015 or 2016.

Honorable Mention: A few races have the dynamics of a competitive race even if they aren't there quite yet.  Montana is a solid red state, but one that has a tendency to elect Democratic governors, and the Democrats have a solid one in Steve Bullock.  Bullock has managed to ward off a challenge from Attorney General Tim Fox and as a result will likely run against a second-tier candidate.  This is a red state so a dip in Hillary Clinton's numbers could be costly, but Bullock starts out with the lead.  The same can be said for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, running for a first full-term after the resignation of Gov. John Kitzhaber.  Brown is likely to attract a solid challenger, but this is a blue state so she has the edge.  Still, after a disgraced governor the state might have a "try something else for a term" mentality similar to what Massachusetts, Maryland, and Illinois did last cycle so Brown can hardly rest on her laurels.  Lastly, David Vitter is in a strange position where he is down in the polls and the generals, but because of the state's Republican tendencies I still can't see him losing quite yet.  Vitter's Democratic opponent John Bel Edwards seems certain to make it to the runoff, but he only has a chance against Vitter whose approval has started to fall enough where it's questionable if he could make it to the runoff.  If he does and polling remains close, this becomes an extremely unusual pickup opportunity.  Until then, though, it stays off the list.

Executive Councilor Chris Sununu (R-NH)
5. New Hampshire

The question that had been hanging over this race for months has been answered, and as a result the New Hampshire Democratic State Party has their wish of two tossups (rather than a Lean Democratic and Lean Republican set of races), but they will have a tough race ahead of them here.  With Gov. Maggie Hassan running for the U.S. Senate, the race is wide open, though it's worth noting that the state has gone for Democratic governors for most of the past fifteen years, with only one exception.  Executive Councilor Colin van Ostern (D) has jumped out already into the race, and appears to have the upper-hand though ambitious Democrats like Executive Councilor Chris Pappas or State Sen. Andrew Hosmer could create a bit of a primary hiccup for the Democrats.  The same could be said for the Republicans if State Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley (who also served the Granite State in Congress) jumps in against Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, the son of former Governor John Sununu and younger brother of former Sen. John E. Sununu (as you can tell, it's a big name in the state).  A lot of this race will depend on the bid for the White House as the state is notoriously swing-y in terms of whom they go for based on national headwinds.  With this race, as well as competitive races for the White House, Senate, and first congressional district the Granite State will have nothing but political ads heading into next November. (Previous Ranking: 5)

4. Kentucky

I am moving this race down a slot if only because Matt Bevin (R) has made it almost impossible for anyone to assume he will win.  Bevin's behavior in this race has been erratic, bordering on the bizarre, from yelling at a woman at Democratic headquarters about a sign to not raising money to abysmal debate performances he has done absolutely everything within his power to lose what should have been a relatively easy race considering the shellacking Democrats took last year in the Senate.  Attorney General Jack Conway (D) has not run a good campaign and against almost any other Republican this would be his third strike (he ran for Congress in 2002 and the Senate in 2010, losing both times) but Bevin's ineptitude may be his saving grace to finally winning major office.  Two other points here-one, if Bevin costs the Republicans turnout, that could be felt down-ballot where Democrats hold almost every constitutional office but rising stars like Adam Edelen and Alison Lundergan Grimes both have serious competitors that could lose precious votes if Conway is winning, keeping them high on the Democratic bench.  Secondly, one has to wonder if Mitch McConnell, who ran a primary race against Bevin last year, hasn't been pulling a few strings to see the upstart lose (the RGA pulling out of a tossup race is basically unheard of, and it's not like there's any other game in town right now), not wanting a governor from his party that he can't predict. (Previous Ranking: 3)

Attorney General Roy Cooper (D-NC)
3. North Carolina

North Carolina moves up only because Kentucky moved down, as the dynamics of this race haven't changed.  The Tarheel State still is the best chance the Democrats have of trying to dig themselves out of a massive deficit in terms of statehouses they hold, and they know it.  Gov. Pat McCrory has the advantages of both incumbency and the state's slight red tint in 2016, but he knows that his first term hasn't had the success it should have, particularly when he looks at how well attacks Sen. Kay Hagan made against Thom Tillis in 2014 worked.  Hagan lost, but barely and almost every objective outsider admits she would have won in a more neutral environment, which is what 2016 will be.  This fact keeps McCrory's a race to watch, particularly since the Democrats got their guy in Attorney General Roy Cooper.  Cooper is the underdog, but not by much and if the Democrats are able to get any sort of headwind in the state, watch out. (Previous Ranking: 4)

2. Missouri

One of the biggest questions of the 2016 race is the relationship that Hillary Clinton will have with the states both her husband and President Obama won.  It's worth noting, of course, that while President Obama never took the Show Me State, President Bill Clinton did twice and Gore in 2000/Obama in 2008 both came very close to winning there.  One wonders if Hillary Clinton will be able to turn the tides a bit on what was once the biggest bellwether in the country.  If she can, that can only help Attorney General Chris Koster (D), who has a cleared primary while the Republicans seem to be eating each other alive.  Lt. Governor Peter Kinder, Health Care Executive John Brunner, and House Speaker Catherine Hanaway are all in a combative primary on the right, and while the state's conservative tilt and the recent failures of Democratic incumbent Jay Nixon in Ferguson make me wonder if this is pointless for the left, there's enough hope there to not give up quite yet. (Previous Ranking: 2)

1. West Virginia

The same cannot be said for West Virginia, where Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) is term-limited and the Democrats have run out of candidates.  The only Democrat who had a real shot was incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin, who decided instead to run for reelection (to the sighs of Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid), and so the Democrats are stuck with coal executive Jim Justice or State Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, while the Republicans appear to have coalesced around State Senate President Bill Cole.  Cole has a red state, a potentially bloody Democratic primary, a state that the Republicans are sure to win nationally, and the knowledge that the Democrats have lost all but one of the congressional seats in the state in his pocket.  That's a whole lot of pluses, none of which the Democrats have.  This seat is a surefire loss. (Previous Ranking: 1)

And there you have it-a look at the next two year's worth of governor's races.  What are your thoughts? We'll find out a lot more about Kentucky and Louisiana in the next few weeks, but in the meantime weigh in on where you think some of these races are going!

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