Governors’ Races

A View From Across the Potomac | 0 comments | by The Hawthorn Group

To Hawthorn Friends and Family —

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Election Day is two weeks away . . . and while all the attention is on whether the GOP will seize control of the U.S. Senate (which we’ll forecast in another week), some of the toughest battles being fought in the 2014 campaign are for governors’ offices, with 36 on the ballot this year.

Not since 1984, have more than six incumbent governors lost races for reelection. This year, there are a dozen reelection campaigns that look/could become very competitive, as well as five or six states where a partisan change in the Governor’s office is somewhat likely.

Why care about governors in other states? Not only do they make/enforce policies with national (even international) consequences (energy production, pipelines, taxation, environmental, redistricting, etc.) but they can initiate actions (from voting rights, to social policies, to education, to law enforcement, etc.) that can suddenly “catch fire” in other states.

It appears the voters “get it” and are keenly focused on the 36 governors’ offices up for reelection this year.

Those voters – deeply disillusioned with ALL politics and government, dissatisfied with the direction of the country, disapproving (historical lows) of the President and, even more, of Congress – are taking out some of their bitterness and frustration on state governors.

And it’s costing governors and their challengers LOTS of money. As Chris Cillizza and his colleagues pointed out in a recent “Fix” column in the WASHINGTON POST:

“According to the Center for Public Integrity, $379 million has been spent on commercials in the 36 gubernatorial races this fall — $58 million more than has been spent on ads in the 36 Senate races. That includes a stunning $62 million in ads in the Florida race between Gov. Rick Scott (R) and former governor Charlie Crist. In Illinois, Quinn and wealthy businessman Bruce Rauner (R) have spent almost $53 million on TV. And eight of the 10 candidates who have spent the most money on campaign commercials this cycle are running for governor.”

While most scandal-free incumbents historically coast to re-election, this year’s elections see governors under enormous re-election pressure. Looking around the country, among the 30 incumbents seeking re-election, the most vulnerable incumbents appear to be:


  • Florida – In the most expensive governor’s race in the nation, Gov. Rick Scott (R) is in a dead heat with former Gov. (and former Republican-turned Independent-turned Democrat) Charlie Crist. Latest poll numbers show Crist leading Scott 45% to 41% (although internal polling shows the race closer and moving a bit in Scott’s favor). That’s close enough that Scott’s silly handling of Crist’s podium fan at the debate (reminiscent of Clayton Williams’ refusal to shake Anne Richards’ hand) could be the critical difference . . . although the outcome is more likely to be impacted by an Independent who is polling some 7% of the vote. The outcome of this race – in America’s fourth-largest state – will have enormous consequences, especially on the business community.
  • Georgia – Gov. Nathan Deal (R) is in a surprisingly tight race with State Sen. Jason Carter (grandson of the former President). Polls are showing a dead heat at 44% to 44%. If no one gets 50% – an increasingly likely possibility – the run-off will be December 2, creating real turn-out challenges, since a Nunn-Perdue senate run-off (also considered likely), won’t be until January 6. From the perspective of most entrenched interests, Carter will be as much an outsider in the Georgia governor’s office as his grandfather was in the White House.
  • Pennsylvania – Nary a pundit exists that thinks Gov. Tom Corbett (R) will be re-elected. He is considered the “surest” loss among governors.
  • Connecticut – In the “reliably” Democrat “nutmeg” state, Governor Dannel Malloy (D) – who was only elected with a 6,404 vote margin – is in serious trouble. Malloy has made headlines as one of the few incumbent Democrats this election cycle to campaign with President Obama. In a rematch of the 2010 race, Malloy faces former Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley. Most polls had shown the race to be a dead heat, but a recent Rasmussen survey showed Foley leading the Governor, 50% to 43%.
  • Maine – Often (deservedly) a public laughing stock, Gov. Paul LePage (R) may survive only because it’s a three-way race (he could not possibly win ANY two-way race) . . . but he’ll get well under 50% – perhaps even under 40% – of the vote. The third-party candidate, Eliot Culter, ran in 2010 and lost to LePage, coming in second, by 10,000 votes.
  • Michigan – A “get-it-done” businessman, Gov. Rick Snyder (R) is in – even for a Republican in Michigan – a surprisingly close race. According to the latest polls, Snyder leads former Democratic Congressman Mark Schauer 47% to 46%.
  • Wisconsin – Darling of the anti-union right and survivor of a massive recall effort, presidential candidate wanna-be Gov. Scott Walker (R) faces Madison School Board member Mary Burke and polls show the two dead even at 47% each.
  • Illinois – Once thought a “sure loss,” a bumbling Gov. Pat Quinn (D) has seemingly rebounded a bit, with latest polls showing a one point lead over businessman Bruce Rauner, 42% to 41%, who seems to be fading. Here, too, a third-party candidate is pulling five to seven percent of the vote.
  • Kansas – Dwarfed in national coverage by the surprising senate race, this is a very hot governor’s contest. Incumbent (and former U.S. Senator) Sam Brownback (R) had been running behind in the polls, but has recently closed the gap to a 42% to 42% tie with State Representative Paul Davis. Brownback not only cut taxes in a failed effort to stimulate the economy – leading to a projected $1.3 billion state budget deficit in the next five years. He then “purged” his own party of his opponents. Many of the ousted legislators joined with over 100 Kansas Republicans to endorse the Democratic nominee.
  • Colorado – Once viewed as an able governor, John Hickenlooper (D) has mishandled issues like gun control and seemed uncertain in debates/media responses. According to the polls, he is in trouble, trailing Republican former Representative Bob Beauprez 46% to 42% in a state where the U.S. Senate race also seems to have switched from D to R.
  • Alaska –This November, for the first time since statehood, the Alaska ballot will not include a Democrat nominee for governor. Incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell (R) looked to have an easy path to reelection in a three-way race with independent candidate Bill Walker and Democrat Byron Mallot splitting votes. However, now that the two challengers have formed a “unity campaign” – with the Independent at the top of the ticket and the Democrat willingly running as his lieutenant governor – Parnell’s reelection looks to be in serious jeopardy, thanks in part to a scandal involving Parnell’s handling of misconduct in the Alaska National Guard. Most recent poll – and polls are historically UN-reliable in Alaska – shows Parnell trailing 41% to 50%.
  • Hawaii – The incumbent governor of the Aloha State, Neil Abercrombie (D), has already lost, after 19 years representing Hawaii in the U.S. House and four as Governor. He was trounced in his primary, winning only 31% of the vote. In this reliably blue state, the race will still likely go to the Democrat, David Ige, despite the presence of yet another third-party candidate, former Honolulu Mayor (and ’10 losing gubernatorial primary candidate) Mufi Hannemann, who is running as an Independent.

If there is a “sleeper” to add to these contested incumbents, it might be:

  • Idaho – where incumbent Governor Butch Otter (R) is barely ahead of his Democrat opponent in the most recent polling with the third-party candidate getting 12% of the vote.

In addition to embattled incumbents, in states where the current occupant is term-limited (and/or seeking another office), a partisan switch ranges from a “long shot” to possible, probable, or, even, likely:

  • Maryland – Current Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown (D) – who would be the first African-American governor of this reliably Democrat state (and the first lieutenant governor to advance to the higher office) –seems a bit “slower to close” than he should, but with polls showing Brown leading businessman Larry Hogan 49% to 42%.
  • Arizona – The Republicans seem to be bouncing back after a tough primary, but lingering resentment due to deep GOP intra-party divisions between Gov. Jan Brewer (R) and the legislature could provide an opening for the attractive Democrat candidate Fred DuVal, but Arizona is tough for any Democrat. Bet on State Treasurer. Bets are on State Treasurer Doug Ducey (R).
  • Rhode Island — State Treasurer Gina Raimondo (D) won a four-way primary, but while leading in the polls for November 4, is still well below 50% in a three-way race to keep the Ocean State in the Democrat column. Current Gov. Lincoln Chaffee won a seven-way race with 36% of the vote, running as an Independent, since turned Democrat.
  • Massachusetts – In this perceived bastion of Kennedy/Kerry/Dukakis Democrats (ignoring the many Republicans the Bay State has elected over the decades), Attorney General – and generally lousy candidate – Martha Coakley (D) is in a dead heat for Governor, with the latest poll showing a 41% to 41% tie among likely voters.
  • Arkansas – Is the state most certain (along with Pennsylvania) to see a party change as former Congressman Asa Hutchinson (R) coasts to victory, succeeding popular Mike Beebe, a lone Democrat in this otherwise very “red” GOP state.

Being a governor is a tough job. Senators only have to vote – in far-off Washington – often on obscure, easily confused, little noticed federal measures. Governors have to govern . . . run schools, prisons, hospitals, highway systems, public safety and countless other hard, demanding tasks VERY close to home.

Expect a LOT of changes in governors’ offices this year. To repeat the oft-quoted line,

“No good deed goes unpunished.”


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