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The State of the 2014 Gubernatorial Races

Recently, the Los Angeles Times ran an article describing that in a year that is looking increasingly bad for the Democrats, the “one bright spot” is the gubernatorial races where they stand to pick up some seats.  Of the 36 races this year, 22 Governor’s offices are held by Republicans.  Three of them are open seats- Arizona, Nebraska, and Texas.  Of the 14 Democratic governor races, four of them are open races- Arkansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.  The LA Times article focused primarily on the race in “ruby-red Kansas” as if that is the bell weather state for Democratic gains.  However, it bears reminding that as of 2008, Kansas had a Democratic Governor- Kathleen Sebelius.  A Democratic win here would not be as surprising as they make it to be.

For analysis purposes, I divided the races into four groups- Republican held solid, Republican held borderline, Democratic held solid, and Democratic held borderline.

1. Category 1- Democratic-held solid:  In this category I would place Jerry Brown in California, Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire, Andrew Coumo in New York, John Kitzhaber in Oregon, Peter Shumlin in Vermont, Anthony Brown to succeed Martin O’Malley in Maryland, and Angel Tavares to succeed the retiring Lincoln Chaffee in Rhode Island.  Of these seven, perhaps the only one that could move to borderline status would be the race in New Hampshire.

Political moods seem to change with the changing of the leaves in the Granite State and nothing is ever assured until the day after Election Day.  The GOP opposition in these states are probably the best the Republican Party can do although Dennis Richardson in Oregon is starting to narrow the polling gap against Kitzhaber.  Like the Senate race, the bulk of the population is in the Portlandia region which tends to vote Democratic.

2. Category 2- Democratic held borderline:  What the LA Times article fails to mention is the number of Democratic seats in play that would mitigate GOP losses elsewhere.  The most likely Republican pick-ups are in Arkansas, Connecticut and Illinois.  Mike Beebe in term-limited in Arkansas and Asa Hutchinson is consistently out-polling his Democratic opponent, former Congressman Mike Ross.  Both are the ideal candidates for their respective parties for Arkansas.  In Connecticut, incumbent Dan Malloy is embattled and will likely face his 2010 opponent in a rematch- Tom Foley.  Four years ago, Malloy barely eked out a 7,000 vote victory over Foley.  Although that was a Republican wave year, the Democrat won attesting to the blueness of Connecticut.  However, Malloy’s tenure has been an agenda filled with liberal ideas- transgender equality and gay rights, repeal of the death penalty, early childhood education programs, expansion of voting rights, and unionization efforts.  Unfortunately, this is all borne on the backs of Connecticut taxpayers and businesses.

Another state that looked like a distant possibility two years ago was Colorado where an unpopular gun control law has hampered the chances of John Hicklenhooper.  Before the GOP primary, the Democrat was up double digits at times, but since then this race has become a dead heat.  Thus far, Beauprez has done nothing to sink his chances.  Although the race will likely heat up after Labor Day, the Republican Party actually has a 50/50 chance of taking down a Democratic incumbent.  And Pat Quinn is not exactly the most popular figure in Illinois these days.  Quinn did not win in a landslide in 2010 and if he prevails this year, it will not be by much.  That “not by much” must give the GOP hope.  The liberal responses to the state’s well-publicized fiscal woes have worn thin and are hurting Quinn’s chances.  Rauner is Chicago-born and has roots in that city both personally and professionally.  Thus, Quinn cannot rely on Chicago that much.  Most polls actually put Rauner on top at this point.

Possibly outlying possibilities exist in Minnesota where Mark Dayton will face the winner of a crowded GOP primary.  The fact that so many Republicans are lining up to take a shot at Dayton indicates there may be vulnerabilities here.  Given the volatility of Minnesota politics, anything is possible.  And in Hawaii, Neil Abercrombie has to survive his own primary first.  He too is not a highly popular governor, but the state is probably blue enough to get him over the line.  However, it should be remembered that they recently had a popular GOP Governor in Linda Lingle.  And finally, the open seat in Massachusetts will likely find Charlie Baker opposing Martha Coakley.  This has the potential to take on an Illinois-type election although it is an open race.  Coakley is not exactly the greatest campaigner and Baker has the experience having run and lost in 2010.  I would put the chances here at 40% for the GOP.

From these two categories, we can count on GOP pick-ups in Arkansas, Connecticut, probably Illinois, and possibly Colorado and Massachusetts.  That is a low end 3 pick ups and high end 5 pick ups.

3. Category 3- Republican held solid-  There are 13 states in this category- Robert Bentley in Alabama, Sean Parnell in Alaska, Butch Otter in Idaho, Terry Branstad in Iowa, Brian Sandoval in Nevada, Susanna Martinez in New Mexico, Mary Fallin in Oklahoma, Nikki Haley in South Carolina, Dennis Daugaard in South Dakota, Bill Haslam in Tennessee, Matt Mead in Wyoming, Glenn Abbott to succeed the retiring Rick Perry in Texas and Pete Ricketts to succeed the term-limited Dave Heineman in Nebraska.  Unless you are Debbie Wasserman-Schultz mangling a question, the Nevada race gets little notice and one hears nary a word about Idaho, Wyoming or Oklahoma.  Texas only gets notice because of Abortion Barbie Wendy Davis who is proving a dismal failure thus far.  But, as long as her candidacy draws money from liberal groups into a losing cause….

Looking at these races, in fact, I can see none of them moving to borderline status absent some major scandal.

Category 4- Republican held borderline: I am going to include the open Arizona race here only because it is open.  However, it will likely remain in GOP control simply because of the Republican Party’s deep bench here.

Paul LePage in Maine will face a tough challenger in Mike Michaud, but despite the Democrat’s name recognition in the state, his comparatively moderate fiscal stances at times, and a coalescing around him early in the season, LePage polls surprisingly close or ahead.  Coupled with the fact that a viable independent is running again this time, the same dynamics that won LePage election in 2010 may also be in play this year.  Despite Democratic optimism, I put this race at 50/50.  Regarding that Kansas race, yes Sam Brownback has hit a snag of negativity and several prominent Kansas Republicans have endorsed his Democratic opponent.  But remember that Kansas has not held their primary yet so Brownback may not even be the GOP candidate.  If he isn’t, then all Democratic bets are off.  If he is, look to see how wide a margin he wins by over his primary opponent Jennifer Winn.  If its a landslide, then he will win in November; if not, then the Democrats have a greater than 50% chance.

In Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett’s poll numbers are dismal.  He has been on the attack of late after running a series of ads touting his achievements thus far, mainly in bringing jobs to the state.  A lot of those jobs are in the energy sector which his opponent, Tom Wolf, is portraying as not paying their fair share in taxes and fees.  In short, Wolf wants to kill or scare away the goose that is laying the golden employment eggs.  Still, I believe Corbett is so under water that he cannot recover.  It is a shame because he is not a bad guy.

Rick Snyder in Michigan, John Kasich in Ohio and Scott Walker in Wisconsin all face reelection challenges with Kasich probably the most assured of reelection this year.  Snyder will face Mark Schauer in November.  Michigan is not exactly a red or even purple state so if Snyder prevails, it will not be by much.  Looking at the polls, one would expect Schauer to be doing a little better, yet Snyder appears poised for reelection.  Methinks the Democratic Party’s hopes are too high here.

Scott Walker is just a great survivor and Democratic efforts to embroil him in a scandal that turned out not to be only underscores their dislike of him.  Organized labor has a big ax to grind against him.  The thing that gives me worry is that a relative unknown- Mary Burke- is polling dangerously and consistently close to Walker.  Still, given Walker’s electoral track record, I believe that in the end he will win 51-49%.

In Florida, given his approval ratings and the fiscal problems facing the state coupled with a changing demographic, there is no reason for incumbent Rick Scott not only to be leading in the polls, but putting some distance between himself and his Democratic opponent.  Actually, that is the reason- his opponent- Charlie Crist.  He is a well-tanned chameleon of a politician who keeps rising like a bronzed phoenix from the political ashes.  Pollsters are perplexed at why Scott is ahead in the polls, but why question it from our side?  My hope is that Scott wins and drives a stake in the heart of Charlie Crist and that he dies an ugly political death.  He’s in the right state for retirement, but my guess is we will be hearing from him again in the future.  Scott’s chances?  Two months ago I would have lumped him in with Corbett in Pennsylvania.  Today, I put his chances at 50% or slightly better.

Finally, there is Georgia where Nathan Deal, who held wide leads after the primary, over Democratic opponent Jason Carter, but is now finding himself embroiled in a scandal.  That is affecting his poll numbers without a doubt.  How he handles these accusations will be key to his reelection chances.  I’ve said this in the past and I will say it again: Democrats have a greater chance of turning Georgia blue before they turn Texas blue.  What gives me hope for Deal’s survival are the poll numbers in the Senate race showing Perdue up over Nunn at this point.

Overall, I count one definite loss- Pennsylvania.  There are three other races with an at least 50% chance of losing- Maine, Kansas and Georgia.  If we throw in Florida and/or Michigan and/or Wisconsin, we have a low end estimate of a 1 seat loss and a high end possibility of 6 seats.  In effect, the best the Democrats can hope for is a net 1 seat pick up.  Even then, at this point I would say two of the following three- Snyder, Walker and Scott- will prevail.  Hence, overall Republicans would stand to actually pick up one more Governor’s seat.

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