June 20th, 2013,
If you’re looking for a major difference between the last midterm election in 2010 and the one coming up in 2014, we’ve got one for you: gubernatorial incumbency — the lack of it in ’10 and the abundance of it in ’14.
Back in ’10, just a baker’s dozen of the 37 incumbent state governors were running for reelection. That cornucopia of open statehouses (24) produced lots of turnover. Republicans added a net six governorships, including the plums of Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.* The GOP’s new total of 29 governorships was the most the party had held in a decade (Republicans hold 30 of 50 now).
It was the flipping of statehouses that was most impressive in 2010. Republicans grabbed 11 governorships that had been in Democratic hands, and despite a bad environment nationally, Democrats seized five from the GOP, including the big prize of California. That’s close to half of the available statehouses shifting parties all at once. In this polarized, hyper-partisan era, where Red is Red and Blue is Blue and never the twain shall meet, that’s an impressive degree of change on one Election Day.
The situation for 2014 couldn’t be more different. Instead of 24 governorships without an incumbent running, we’re more likely to see a mere half-dozen or so. This means approximately 30 of the 36 incumbents will be on the November ballot — the largest number in over a half-century.**
Democratic incumbents aren’t running in Arkansas, Maryland and Massachusetts, while Republican incumbents are stepping down in Arizona and Nebraska.*** It is also possible that one or more of these three governors could be defeated in a party primary: Lincoln Chafee (D-RI), Tom Corbett (R-PA) and Pat Quinn (D-IL). Even if they all lost their primaries, which is unlikely, the number of incumbent governors running in the general election would still be a modern record (26 is the highest since 1960, most recently in 2006).
Why does this matter? Because since 1960, about four of every five incumbent governors who made a general election ballot have in fact been reelected. If anything like this average prevails in 2014, this will severely limit statehouse turnover. At least for the states, 2014 could be a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
By no means does our tentative conclusion suggest that no significant shifts are on the horizon. There will be a few headline defeats, inevitably. The current top candidate is Pennsylvania’s Gov. Corbett (R). While it is uncommon to classify any incumbent governor as an underdog at such an early point in the cycle, Corbett is a rare case: His numbers are dreadful, and he seems to us to be a particularly maladroit politician, prone to painful gaffes, who is also probably too conservative for his state. A recent Quinnipiac poll sums up his problems: His approval rating is stuck at an awful 35%, and he trails his largely unknown potential opponents by about 10 percentage points (more on Corbett below). How bad is it for Corbett? Even an internal GOP poll shows him struggling mightily. The Democrats’ most vulnerable seat is Arkansas, but that’s because popular Gov. Mike Beebe — a Democrat whose 2010 reelection was so dominant that he didn’t lose a single county — is term-limited.
For the most part, Democrats appear to have the better chances to defeat Republican incumbents. Govs. Rick Scott (FL), Rick Snyder (MI) and Paul LePage (ME) all are in what appear to be coin-flip races, although they are not underdogs, unlike Corbett. The Republicans’ best shot to defeat an incumbent governor might be in Connecticut, where Gov. Dan Malloy (D) is again struggling. As mentioned above, two other vulnerable Democratic incumbents — Chafee (a recent convert to the party of Jefferson and Jackson) and Quinn — are likelier to lose in their primaries before making it to the general election.
One potential benefit for this year’s crop of endangered incumbent governors is an improving economy. Even disliked incumbents can convert better economic numbers into a powerful argument for reelection. Voters aren’t sure why the economy strengthens or weakens, and it often has little to do with governors. But why take a chance? So incumbents get the credit, and extra votes. This — and the power of incumbency that will come to bear in the lion’s share of these races — could save the governors we think are endangered, or at least make the races very close.
Chart 1 shows our rating changes for this gubernatorial update, and Map 1 shows every state’s rating. To see our full gubernatorial race chart with all the declared and potential candidates, click here. Below the ratings map, we detail what’s going on in each race.
*You can argue the GOP actually gained seven, since Florida went from independent Charlie Crist to Republican Rick Scott, but Crist had been elected as a Republican. Take your pick.
**There are only 36 gubernatorial races being contested in 2014, compared to 37 in 2010, because 2010 featured a special election for Utah governor. Statistics on incumbent governors come from Vital Statistics on American Politics 2011-2012.
***Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) wants to run for a second full term, contending her inherited short term from 2009-2010 shouldn’t count against her, but she is almost certainly constitutionally barred from doing so.
Chart 1: Crystal Ball gubernatorial ratings changes
Map 1: 2014 Crystal Ball gubernatorial ratings
Alabama: Gov. Robert Bentley (R) is a safe bet for reelection, unless he has trouble retaining his party’s nomination. But despite talk of possible primary trouble for Bentley, thus far he only has one minor challenger, former Morgan County Commissioner Stacy Lee George (R); another possibility is state school board member Mary Scott Hunter (R). Not much to see here, so far. SAFE REPUBLICAN
Alaska: Incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell (R) announced in early May that he would seek reelection in 2014, ending speculation about his possible interest in challenging Sen. Mark Begich (D). But before he worries about November, Parnell will have to deal with an old foe in the GOP primary. After succeeding Gov. Sarah Palin (R) following her resignation in 2009, Parnell defeated attorney Bill Walker (R) 50% to 33% in the Republican primary before easily beating Ethan Berkowitz (D) in the November 2010 general election. Now Walker is back, attacking Parnell for a recent oil tax reduction that has proven controversial in the Last Frontier. However, it remains to be seen if Walker will actually cause Parnell trouble. On the Democratic side, state Sen. Bill Wielechowski is considering the race, scaring all political pundits and prognosticators because they may have to spell his name correctly for an entire cycle. (Although Alaskans proved themselves adroit spellers in writing in Lisa Murkowski in her Senate reelection victory in 2010.) Additionally, Berkowitz is pondering taking another shot at Parnell. SAFE REPUBLICAN
Arkansas: The contest for the governorship in the Razorback State has gotten more interesting following the decision of ex-Rep. Mike Ross (D) to join the race. As a February poll indicated, Ross would likely be more competitive against ex-Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R), the GOP favorite, than ex-Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D). The Democratic establishment is rallying around the moderate Ross while encouraging the more liberal Halter to consider running for the U.S. House instead, but it appears Halter has no interest in acquiescing. There will also be action in the Republican primary, where Hutchinson will face off against businessman Curtis Coleman and state Rep. Debra Hobbs. However, whereas the Ross-Halter primary matchup could be quite competitive, Hutchinson seems a strong bet to win the GOP nod. Although Ross polls better against Hutchinson than Halter, he still polls behind the Republican frontrunner. Given the lay of the land and the state’s sharp Republican turn in recent years, this race remains LEANS REPUBLICAN.
Arizona: After narrowly losing to now-Sen. Jeff Flake (R) last November for a seat in the U.S. Senate, former Surgeon General Richard Carmona (D) publicly mulled running for governor in 2014. But in March, much to Democrats’ chagrin, Carmona opted to not run, saying it was too soon for another major campaign. Carmona’s decision leaves ex-Arizona Board of Regents President Fred DuVal (D) as the lone Democrat in the race, though state House Minority Leader Chad Campbell (D) may also jump in. While Secretary of State Ken Bennett (R) has yet to announce his candidacy for the governorship, he would likely become the favorite in the GOP nomination race if and when he declares. Until we know more, the conservative leanings of the Grand Canyon State make this race LEANS REPUBLICAN.
California: The latest news on the Left Coast is that ex-Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado (R) will seek the Republican nomination for governor in 2014. Having served as then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (R) deputy for most of the last two years of the Governator’s second term, Maldonado seems likely to gain the GOP nod. Still, Maldonado is a moderate who supports immigration reform, and his lone primary opponent (at the moment) is state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a noted anti-illegal immigration activist. Given the dynamics of Republican primaries over the last couple of cycles, we hesitate to say Maldonado is a mortal lock for the GOP nomination. Not that it will probably matter all that much: Though he will be 76 by November 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is expected to run for reelection and will be a heavy favorite to win. Should Brown surprisingly decide not to run, there are numerous Democrats waiting in the wings in the heavily Democratic Golden State. SAFE DEMOCRATIC
Colorado: Ex-Rep. Tom Tancredo (R) was so incensed by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s (D) decision to temporarily reprieve the execution of a man on death row that he will seek the GOP nomination for governor. Calling Hickenlooper’s choice “the last straw,” the controversial former House member is ready to take another shot at the Centennial State governorship. Back in 2010, Tancredo opted to run as the Constitution Party’s gubernatorial candidate against Hickenlooper and Dan Maes (R). Tancredo wound up winning 36% of the vote to Maes’ 11% while Hickenlooper cruised to victory with 51%. Considering Tancredo’s past performance and opposition to immigration reform in an increasingly diverse state, establishment Republicans are rightfully wary of his candidacy. That said, the incumbent has hit a rocky patch: A June 13 poll by Quinnipiac found Hickenlooper leading Tancredo only 42%-41%. That survey result runs in the face of polling from only a couple months ago that showed the incumbent looking strong for reelection, and it certainly has given us pause. The Quinnipiac survey indicated voters strongly disapprove of Hickenlooper’s death penalty reprieval. That issue, combined with recent gun control legislation, could be problematic for “Hick” in the long run. While we have a tough time seeing Tancredo actually beating Hickenlooper in a rematch, another Republican, such as Secretary of State Scott Gessler, might have a shot in this race. While it’s possible that Hickenlooper is just at an artificially low point, we’re moving Colorado to LEANS DEMOCRATIC.
Connecticut: Although Gov. Dan Malloy’s (D) approval rating improved after the state passed a new, more restrictive gun law in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, it looks like the incumbent is back in hot water. The latest Quinnipiac poll shows Malloy trailing his 2010 opponent, Tom Foley (R), 43% to 40%. Moreover, the survey found that only 44% of voters thought Malloy deserved to be reelected, with majorities disapproving of his handling of the economy, taxes and the state’s budget. Despite Connecticut’s Democratic tilt, Republican governors held the governor’s office for 16 straight years before Malloy won in 2010, and Nutmeg State voters may be willing to return the GOP to power. Odds are, Foley won’t have the Republican field to himself, with state House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero (R) and state Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney (R) also looking at the race. But Quinnipiac’s survey showed Foley has an early edge over his GOP counterparts, though name recognition is a factor at this point. It’s clear that Malloy is struggling to stay afloat — we’re now calling this contest a TOSS-UP.
Florida: If Malloy is treading water, Gov. Rick Scott (R) of Florida is trying to remember how to swim. The latest poll from Quinnipiac finds the incumbent trailing former Gov. Charlie Crist (D) 47% to 37%, though this actually represents an improvement for Scott. While Crist hasn’t officially declared his candidacy yet, the Republican-turned-Democrat is making the kinds of moves that scream “I’m running.” For example, he’s been keynoting Democratic events around the state and recently endorsed gay marriage, an increasingly necessary political position for Democratic candidates. Sensing his own vulnerability, Scott flip-flopped his position on Medicaid expansion, deciding to support the Obamacare provision as a way of possibly improving his general election prospects. But his fellow Republicans in the legislature didn’t get the memo — Florida’s new budget does not include funding for the expansion. While Floridians wait for confirmation of Crist’s plans, one other major Democrat’s name is still being bandied about: ex-state CFO Alex Sink (D), Scott’s 2010 opponent. Although Sink has reiterated her reluctance to run again following the recent death of her husband, 2002 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill McBride, that hasn’t stopped her from bashing Crist. Streamlining its attacks, the Florida GOP recently went after Crist and Sink as a pair, highlighting the state’s economic struggles during Crist’s governorship. Previous polling showed Sink leading Scott but not by as much as Crist. TOSS-UP
Georgia: The prospect of running against Gov. Nathan Deal (R) in the conservative Peach State has not attracted any Democratic challengers thus far, which isn’t surprising. The race to watch in Georgia will likely be the Senate contest (if only for its GOP primary), not the governor’s tilt. SAFE REPUBLICAN
Hawaii: On May 2, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D) decided to challenge recently appointed Sen. Brian Schatz (D) in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, taking much of the drama out of the Aloha State’s gubernatorial race. Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) has been viewed as vulnerable, with an approval rating sitting around 40%. While Hanabusa is still running against Abercrombie in a sense (Schatz is his appointee), the sitting governor must feel much better about his chances of securing reelection. With no solid Republican opponent on the horizon, the state’s heavily Democratic lean means this race is now LIKELY DEMOCRATIC despite Abercrombie’s troubles.
Idaho: Although Gov. Butch Otter (R) claims he will seek a third term in 2014, rumors abound that he might not. Rep. Raúl Labrador (R) and Lt. Gov. Brad Little (R) are getting the most attention as possible successors should Otter opt out. Labrador, who criticized Otter’s decision to set up a state-based health insurance exchange as a part of Obamacare, recently abandoned the “Gang of 8” immigration reform group over a possible provision that would give immigrants benefits under the health care law. No matter what Otter decides to do, Democrats aren’t going to be making a play in the Gem State. SAFE REPUBLICAN
Illinois: Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley (D) has formed an exploratory committee for a gubernatorial run, setting up a possible primary battle against sitting Gov. Pat Quinn (D) and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D), who is also expected to challenge Quinn. With an incumbent governor conceivably facing off against two major players from his own party in an explosive primary, the Land of Lincoln may have one of the most interesting campaigns in the country next year. A poll from Crain’s/Ipsos in April showed Quinn with an abysmal 18% approval rating, which explains why Quinn will likely have at least one intraparty challenger. On the Republican side, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford is the current frontrunner. A recent survey of GOP primary voters found him leading 2010 nominee Bill Brady (R), who hasn’t announced yet, and state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R), who is in. Venture capitalist Bruce Rauner (R) is also in the hunt for the Republican nomination after announcing his entry on June 5, and he can self-fund. Overall, the excitement level of this race will probably rest on Madigan’s course of action. If she gets in, the general election will likely be a snoozer. But if she declines to run, things could get much more interesting. Daley’s strength as a candidate is unclear, as he has never run for elected office, while Quinn’s weakness is clear. If Madigan isn’t the nominee, Republicans could very well have a shot at winning. With Madigan’s status in this race still up in the air, we’re shifting this race to LEANS DEMOCRATIC.
Iowa: The longest serving governor since the signing of the Constitution, Gov. Terry Branstad (R) is in a very good position to extend his record if he wants to. An early June poll from the Des Moines Register found his approval rating a sterling 58%, and ex-governor and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (D), the only individual pundits viewed as capable of giving Branstad trouble, said on June 5 that he would not run. With Vilsack out, a number of state legislators, including state Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D) and state Sen. Jack Hatch (D), may be interested in running. Former Gov. Chet Culver (D), who Branstad defeated in 2010, said last year that he might consider a rematch but has been mum as of late on the subject. Considering that Des Moines Register poll found Culver’s favorability in the negatives, it’s hard to see him or anyone else beating Branstad in 2014. LIKELY REPUBLICAN
Kansas: Something tells us Gov. Sam Brownback (R) probably helped his reelection cause by signing legislation preventing federal agents from regulating firearms and ammunition manufactured and stored within Kansas state lines. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (D) has threatened to sue the state over the law, which can only boost Brownback in the deeply conservative Jayhawk State. Somewhere, Andrew Jackson is hopping mad over nullification. SAFE REPUBLICAN
Maine: A three-ring circus may have nothing on Maine. In 2010, Tea Party-backed Gov. Paul LePage (R) won a three-way race for governor, narrowly edging independent Eliot Cutler 38.1% to 36.4% (Democrat Libby Mitchell finished a distant third at 19.1%). LePage will face off against Cutler once again in 2014, but this time Democrats should have a much stronger contender. On June 13, Rep. Mike Michaud (D) announced that he has formed an exploratory committee, signaling his possible entrance into the contest. With a controversial incumbent and a strong independent in the race, a Michaud run would make an already difficult-to-predict race even harder to gauge. A March poll found LePage ahead of both Cutler and Michaud but the same survey found Michaud’s favorability rating second only to Sen. Susan Collins (R) among Maine politicians. Potentially helpful to Michaud is that he represents the more conservative of Maine’s two congressional districts (the Second, which is the biggest congressional district east of the Mississippi). TOSS-UP
Maryland: The latest name thrown into the Old Line State rumor mill is that of former RNC chair and ex-Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R), who recently said he was considering the race. With Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) term-limited, there could be numerous candidates battling for each party’s nomination heading into the June 2014 primary. While Steele mulls the race, Harford County Executive David Craig (R) and Delegate Ron George (R) have officially entered on the Republican side, with others still considering. As for the Democrats, the dynamics of race and geography could determine the nominee. So far, only Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D), an African-American, has declared his candidacy, but given Maryland’s Democratic disposition, Brown will not have the Democratic race to himself. Attorney General Doug Gansler (D), who is viewed by many as Brown’s chief rival for the Democratic nomination, has more than $5 million in his campaign coffers and is expected to announce his own bid. Both Brown and Gansler are from metro Washington, D.C., and another D.C. area pol, state Del. Heather Mizeur (D), is also building support for a possible run. But Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D) is also reportedly contemplating a run, and would be the lone Baltimore-area Democrat in the race if he enters. In a potential three- or four-candidate Democratic primary, having strong regional support could put Ruppersberger over the top. However, Brown’s status as the lone black Democrat in a state with a large African-American population could also prove decisive in his race for the nomination. We are a long way from knowing the matchups in the land of crabcakes and football, so in the meantime we’re calling this race LEANS DEMOCRATIC because of the state’s general political lean.
Massachusetts: Any discussion of the Bay State gubernatorial contest starts with one big question: What will ex-Sen. Scott Brown (R) do? Recent polls from UMass and PPP show Brown leading all potential Democratic opponents, making him far and away the strongest possible Republican candidate in this race. Having passed on Massachusetts’ special election for U.S. Senate, a gubernatorial run in 2014 would make a lot of sense for Brown. He remains a relatively popular Republican politician in a deeply Blue state that has a history of electing Republican governors. As we mentioned in our February review of the gubernatorial races, Republicans have actually controlled the state’s governorship for 26 of the past 50 years. Prior to outgoing Gov. Deval Patrick’s (D) tenure, the GOP held the office for 16 consecutive years. Outside of Brown, 2010 nominee Charlie Baker (R) and 2012 MA-6 nominee Richard Tisei (R) have received some mention. However, neither comes close to matching Brown in political clout or fundraising capacity. Treasurer Steve Grossman (D), Rep. Mike Capuano (D) and former federal health care official Donald Berwick (D) are the three major Democrats looking at the contest, and all trail Brown by healthy margins in recent surveys. While we await Brown’s decision, this race is a TOSS-UP.
Michigan: With Rep. Gary Peters (D) opting to run for retiring Sen. Carl Levin’s (D) seat and 2010 Democratic nominee Virg Bernero uninterested in another go at Gov. Rick Snyder (R), ex-Rep. Mark Schauer (D) appears to be the likely Democratic nominee in Michigan. Officially announcing at the end of May, Schauer is positioned to cause Snyder trouble in 2014. A recent PPP survey found Schauer narrowly leading the incumbent 42% to 38%, with Snyder’s approval/disapproval at 40%/52%. Since he signed Michigan’s right-to-work law in December 2012, Snyder’s approval numbers have taken a sharp hit. While Schauer may struggle to match Snyder’s fundraising capacity, a Republican incumbent with underwater approval ratings in relatively Democratic Michigan is definitely at risk. We’re now calling this one a TOSS-UP.
Minnesota: Because of Minnesota’s slight Democratic tilt and a lack of well-known GOP opponents, Gov. Mark Dayton (D) appears well-positioned to win reelection in 2014. Dayton sports a relatively strong approval rating, and a recent PPP poll showed Dayton leading each of the announced GOP candidates, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson (R) and businessman Scott Honour, by nearly 20 points. Heavily in debt and struggling with factional strife, the Minnesota GOP is straining to find solid opposition for both Dayton and Sen. Al Franken (D), who is also up for reelection in 2014. Minnesota is no California, but Democrats have to feel pretty good about the situation in St. Paul. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC
Nebraska: With Gov. Dave Heineman (R) term-limited and Sen. Mike Johanns (R) retiring, there is a lot of open seat action in the Cornhusker State, potentially attracting a large number of candidates, particularly on the Republican side. Because ex-Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy (R) resigned after it was discovered that he made thousands of calls to women other than his wife on a state-issued phone, the gubernatorial field is wide open. State Sen. Charlie Janssen (R) is the first Republican to jump into the field, but his fellow state Sens. Beau McCoy (R) and Tom Carlson (R) may also throw their hats into the ring. Auditor Mike Foley (R) is also eyeing the race, as is Treasurer Don Stenberg (R), who most recently finished third in the 2012 GOP primary for Senate, won by now-Sen. Deb Fischer (R). Another name to note is former state legislature Speaker Mike Flood (R), who announced for the governor’s race in November 2012, only to drop out a month later after his wife was diagnosed with cancer. Recent rumors of his re-entry into the race appear to be unfounded, at least at the moment. There are fewer names on the Democratic side but no less uncertainty. Center for Rural Affairs Executive Director Chuck Hassebrook (D) is the only declared Democrat in the race so far. Hassebrook intended on running for the Senate in 2012 until ex-Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) decided to seek a return to Washington. Other potential Democratic candidates include state Sen. Steve Lathrop and Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler. However, it seems fairly unlikely that conservative Nebraska will elect a Democrat for either opening in 2014, especially with a Democrat in the White House. LIKELY REPUBLICAN
Nevada: The field of possible opponents for Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) is thinning. Last week, Nevada political guru Jon Ralston reported that term-limited Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D) was probably not going to run for governor in 2014. At this point, about the only potential candidate still considering the race is Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak (D), and if he runs he may have the field to himself. Of course, the lack of interest among stronger potential candidates like Masto is a sure sign that Sandoval is in a very strong position for reelection. It’s conceivable that Sandoval’s recent veto of universal background check legislation could hurt him in what is an increasingly Democratic state, but as a writer for the Las Vegas Sun pointed out, Sandoval “has governed as a careful, inoffensive moderate,” which works well for the Silver State. LIKELY REPUBLICAN
New Hampshire: Since 1926, only once has the Granite State sent a one-term gubernatorial incumbent packing: In 2004, then-Gov. Craig Benson (R) was defeated after just a single two-year term. Generally speaking, governors in New Hampshire get two terms, meaning Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) is a good bet to win reelection in 2014 after winning the office in 2012. With Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) also up for reelection in 2014, Republicans may be inclined to focus greater attention and resources on winning back the Senate seat. But there are some Republicans angling for a possible gubernatorial run. Among them is Executive Councilor Chris Sununu (R), who is the son of ex-Gov. John H. Sununu (R) and brother of ex-Sen. John E. Sununu (R). The prolific pollster PPP took a read of this race in April and found Hassan leading all comers by double digits. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC
New Jersey (2013): The death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) presented a quandary for Gov. Chris Christie (R). He faced three choices: He could schedule a special election to fill the Senate seat before November, schedule it to run simultaneously with the general election in November, or attempt to argue that New Jersey law could permit him to appoint a successor who wouldn’t have to run until 2014. Democrats preferred the second choice, hoping to increase Democratic turnout (especially among African Americans if Newark Mayor Cory Booker ends up being the party’s Senate nominee), while many Republicans preferred the third option, hoping to increase the long odds of a Republican winning the Senate seat for a full term. But Christie decided on the first option, scheduling a special election for Oct. 16, 2013, less than one month before the elections for governor and state legislature will take place on Nov. 5. Although there are concerns about the cost and logistics of such a move, Christie’s decision has received backing from the New Jersey court system. Christie’s choice has many ramifications, including possibly negatively impacting his presidential aspirations, but on the gubernatorial front his decision all but ensures his reelection. With Democrats heavily favored to win the Senate special, the resources of New Jersey Democrats will be focused on the Democratic primary for that race rather than the gubernatorial contest. Having voted for a winner on Oct. 16, it’s possible that some Democrats may not show up to vote again on Nov. 5 knowing Christie has the governor’s race in hand, which could benefit down-ticket Republicans in the state legislature. Barbara Buono (D), Christie’s opponent, has become something of an afterthought for Garden State Democrats. And you can see why: The latest poll from Monmouth University finds her trailing the incumbent 61% to 31%, just one of a flood of polls giving Christie a monumental edge. Given Christie’s maneuvering and his very strong poll numbers, we are shifting this race to SAFE REPUBLICAN.
New Mexico: Gov. Susana Martinez (R) recently told National Journal that she has no interest in running for president. However, it’s possible that the lady doth protest too much. Martinez is viewed by many in the GOP hierarchy as a rising star. And why wouldn’t they? She is a Hispanic governor of a state that President Obama won twice by large margins, the kind of profile that many Republicans think is key to expanding the party’s membership and giving it a shot of winning in 2016. But before Martinez can determine her interest in the next presidential cycle, she will need to win reelection first. However, if her 66% approval rating is any sign of things to come, defeating her will be tough sledding for Democrats in 2014. So far, the top challenger is Attorney General Gary King (D), son of a former governor. But it’s possible that King could be vulnerable on his left flank, having recently announced that he would not offer an opinion on whether New Mexico law permits gay marriage, a decision Martinez agreed with. State Sen. Linda Lopez (D) is the only other declared candidate in the race, though several other state legislators are also considering the contest. No matter who winds up being the Democratic nominee, right now it looks like it will be an uphill battle to defeat Martinez. LIKELY REPUBLICAN
New York: Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) sterling numbers have faded a bit lately, but he still looks like he’s in fine shape for 2014. One factor working in his favor is that the state Republican Party is very weak. State Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin (R) has emerged as a possible challenger, but the observation that he “speaks with echoes of Carl Paladino’s 2010 candidacy” augurs poorly for his possible run. SAFE DEMOCRATIC
Ohio: The Buckeye State’s Republican-dominated legislature largely rejected a series of bold proposals from Gov. John Kasich (R), including a broadening and lowering of the state’s sales tax, as part of the state’s soon-to-be-completed biennial budget. Medicaid expansion, which Kasich and the state’s business establishment supports, remains a possibility. Despite appearing to be dead in the water during a painful 2011, Kasich has limited his mistakes and is now a clear favorite for reelection, although his occasionally grating style provides an opening for Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) Executive Ed FitzGerald (D), his likely opponent. Kasich has a few basic structural factors going for him as he gears up for his reelection bid, which our Kyle Kondik described in a piece for the Columbus Dispatch. While the former congressman is not a cinch for reelection, the two more Democratic states that border his — Michigan and Pennsylvania — have incumbent Republican governors who are in significantly worse shape at this point. LEANS REPUBLICAN
Oklahoma: The awful tornadoes that have struck the Sooner State in recent weeks have become at least something of a political issue, as Democrats have criticized Gov. Mary Fallin (R) for opposing the construction of storm shelters in public schools. Despite the criticism, “Fallin gets good marks for handling the recent tornadoes in the state,” observes Hastings Wyman of Southern Political Report. Democrats do not appear to have a candidate. SAFE REPUBLICAN
Oregon: On paper, Republicans should be able to at least compete for the state’s governorship and a couple of U.S. House seats. But there has been zero buzz about any of the state’s major races, which is good for Gov. John Kitzhaber (D). However, “Kitzhaber has not yet said if he will run for reelection next year and he has not been conducting extensive fundraising,” according to Oregonian political reporter Jeff Mapes. Still, this race is SAFE DEMOCRATIC for now, assuming Kitzhaber ends up running for his fourth (non-consecutive) term.
Pennsylvania: As mentioned above, we believe Gov. Tom Corbett (R) is the incumbent likeliest to lose if he makes it to November 2014. One of the reasons for it has to deal with the state’s flagship university, Penn State. Corbett, who was state attorney general prior to his 2010 gubernatorial election, has been hurt by the horrific abuse case that brought down legendary football coach Joe Paterno, and the story is so awful that we suspect it will remain on many Pennsylvanians’ minds for years. The university’s football team is in the midst of a crippling, four-year postseason ban, which means the team is ineligible to play in the Big Ten’s conference championship game or a postseason bowl game. So imagine if the team is undefeated on Election Day — voters will know that the squad’s sterling record will be for naught thanks to the postseason ban. And imagine if the team is scuffling — wouldn’t that produce a salty mood amongst fans, too? Yes, this sounds almost trivial, but bad feelings about Penn State in fall 2014 may invariably translate to bad feelings about the incumbent governor. Given Corbett’s horrible polling, Democrats are lining up to run for the seat. The two leading contenders are Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D) and state Treasurer Rob McCord (D). Corbett has to hope for a bruising battle, but even that might not matter. The Keystone State has a post-World War II tradition: Each party has exchanged eight uninterrupted years of control of the governorship in that timeframe. Perhaps the best way for the Republicans to keep the streak going would be for Corbett to step aside, although a Corbett rebound isn’t out of the question either. LEANS DEMOCRATIC
Rhode Island: Gov. Lincoln Chafee recently made it official: He’s now a Democrat. The one-time moderate Republican, who lost his Senate reelection bid in 2006, won the governorship as an independent in a three-way race in 2010 (with President Obama’s (D) endorsement). Chafee is dreadfully unpopular, though, and he is no shoe-in to win his own party’s nomination. Providence Mayor Angel Taveras (D) is already in the race, and formidable state General Treasurer Gina Raimondo (D) might not be far behind. On the Republican side, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung (R) seems to be getting most of the buzz; former state Police Superintendent Brendan Doherty (R), who unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. House last year, is not running. While the Democratic primary is muddy, the general election picture is clearer: The Democrats are now favored in November 2014, though one could imagine a scenario in which Chafee wins the primary and then is upset. One problem for Republicans is the candidacy of Moderate Party founder Ken Block, who some believe cost the Republicans the governorship in 2010 and whose votes are likelier to come from the Republican as opposed to the Democratic column. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC
South Carolina: Of all the possible Democratic pickup targets in next year’s gubernatorial races, South Carolina is the biggest outlier. Gov. Nikki Haley (R) is the only realistic Democratic target who governs a state that Mitt Romney won in last year’s presidential race. So it’s unsurprising that Democrats will try to localize the race, focusing on specific criticisms of the incumbent, such as challenging her to release more of her tax returns and attacking her over a massive online data breach that occurred last year. State Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D), who ran a good race against Haley in 2010, is seeking a rematch. Haley is vulnerable, although she remains a favorite. LEANS REPUBLICAN
South Dakota: The big-name Democrats who have apparently passed on the state’s open Senate race — U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson and ex-Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin — don’t seem interested in running for governor, either. That means Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) should be in for a quiet reelection. Daugaard, perhaps one of the nation’s more anonymous governors, did make some national news recently: He traveled to Connecticut to try to poach gun manufacturers from that state to move to South Dakota, where he crossed paths with Rick Perry. SAFE REPUBLICAN
Tennessee: The FBI is making life miserable for Gov. Bill Haslam’s (R) brother, Jimmy, by investigating a scam at the Haslam family business, truck stop chain Pilot Flying J. That’s bad news for Jimmy, also the owner of the luckless Cleveland Browns, but brother Bill seems to have kept the investigation at arm’s length. Haslam has received a lot of positive national publicity in recent months, though one wonders if the Pilot Flying J kerfuffle — depending on its outcome — will eventually cause him trouble. SAFE REPUBLICAN
Texas: We continue to wait for an indication as to whether Gov.-for life Rick Perry (R) wants to run for reelection. Also waiting, presumably, is state Attorney General Greg Abbott (R), who is Perry’s likely successor if Perry declines to run for a fourth full term. If they run against each other, look out. Public opinion polling shows that Perry has a small — or large, depending on the source — lead in a primary against Abbott. There’s some debate as to whether Perry, if he wants to take another run at the presidency, should just forego another gubernatorial run and lay the national groundwork now. For what it’s worth, we feel that if Perry really wants to be president — a longshot, for sure — he should try to get another Texas victory under his belt first, if only to get the horrible taste of late 2011 out of his mouth. Democrats might be able to mount a credible challenge here — in 2018, that is. Republican Primary: TOSS UP; General Election: SAFE REPUBLICAN
Vermont: Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) is serving as the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association this cycle, which means he’s spending his time worrying about the campaigns of other Democrats, as opposed to his own. Vermont is one of two governorships that is contested every two years, but Shumlin — first elected narrowly in 2010 and then comfortably in 2012 — should be fine. SAFE DEMOCRATIC
Virginia (2013): It’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s (R) turn to suffer in the Virginia gubernatorial race as running mate troubles and ethics questions have arisen. As we pointed out after E.W. Jackson (R) won the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor at the party’s May convention, Jackson could prove to be an “unwelcome, major distraction for Cuccinelli.” Thus far, Jackson has made national news for his comments that practicing yoga could lead to Satanic possession and that Planned Parenthood has been more dangerous for African Americans than the KKK. Needless to say, Jackson’s nomination hasn’t helped Cuccinelli’s efforts to project a more moderate appearance. Unsurprisingly, Cuccinelli has attempted to distance himself from Jackson, pointing out that Virginia voters have historically determined their votes for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general independently. While Cuccinelli has plenty of political reasons for making this argument, he’s not wrong: In the 11 elections since 1969, Virginians have only elected straight-party tickets five times. Virginians have a track record for separating each office from the other when determining their votes, which may mean that Cuccinelli will be able to avoid being dragged down by his controversial running mate. However, Cuccinelli is also dealing with ethics questions over assistance his office may have provided two energy companies involved in a possible class action lawsuit by the state. Generally speaking, Cuccinelli hasn’t had the best month of his political life. But this doesn’t mean his opponent, former DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe (D), is necessarily heading for victory in November. Prior to Jackson’s nomination, McAuliffe was taking his own turn in the media doghouse. Reports arose that McAuliffe, who has campaigned on his business credentials, had quietly resigned the chairmanship of his electric car company. Another venture in the wood pellet business has also not been quite up to snuff. Perhaps it’s no wonder that McAuliffe has recently been talking more about the company he started as a 14-year-old than his recent business activities. Still, despite his own problems, McAuliffe has been gaining favor with many of the state’s business leaders, who have always been wary of Cuccinelli. Polling still shows this race is very close, though the most recent surveys from Quinnipiac and PPP have McAuliffe narrowly leading. Nevertheless, we wonder if McAuliffe might be hurt by the fact that the June 11 Democratic primary resulted in an all-white male ticket. Could a lack of diversity harm minority turnout in November? To sum it all up, both candidates have myriad problems, and this contest is definitely still a TOSS-UP.
Wisconsin: Democrats are pouncing on Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) job-creation record as governor, and they have some ammunition: For instance, Stateline recently reported that Wisconsin was only one of three states that lost a net number of jobs over the past year. Yet if these numbers make Walker vulnerable, then why aren’t Democrats lining up to run against the conservative folk hero? As of now, he does not have a credible opponent. We continue to believe that Walker was immensely strengthened by his 2012 recall triumph, and that a reelected Walker would be a strong 2016 presidential contender. That said, Walker’s hopes for next year — and beyond — would be bolstered by a better Badger State economy. LIKELY REPUBLICAN
Wyoming: State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill (R) saw her position marginalized by Gov. Matt Mead (R) and the state legislature, so she’s mounting a Tea Party primary challenge to Mead next year. Given that Hill’s criticisms of Mead so far seem to be relatively self-serving — dealing in particular with the loss of her own office’s power — we wonder how credible of a race she will run: A scathing report on her tenure at the Department of Education just came out this week, which could lead to her impeachment. Retired surgeon Taylor Haynes, who won about 7% of the vote as an independent write-in in 2010, could also run as a Republican. Former Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) was reelected with nearly 70% of the vote as recently as 2006, but so far Democrats do not have a candidate and aren’t expected to mount a strong challenge. SAFE REPUBLICAN
June 20th, 2013
Massa-snooze-etts: A steady special election comes to a close
The Massachusetts special Senate election is next Tuesday, and despite a lot of noise to the contrary, the race is not particularly close, nor has it been at any point of the contest. Rep. Ed Markey (D) has been and is a fairly strong favorite to defeat ex-Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez (R). We’ve consistently held our rating of this race at “likely Democratic,” and that’s where it remains.
Markey — at best an average candidate — has benefited from being a Democrat in a Democratic state, and Gomez has failed to morph into Scott Brown 2.0. Democrats, leery of a repeat of the 2010 Brown upset, have poured a significant amount of outside money into the contest, while the Republican outside groups have largely stayed out. The failure of national Republicans to invest in the race told us that they did not believe the race was really winnable.
The public polling in this race has been pretty much static. In Huffington Post’s Pollster average, Markey has held a steady, high-single-digit lead on Gomez. On May 1 (right after the special election primaries), Markey was up 9.2 percentage points in the average; on May 15, he was up 8.4 points; on June 2, he was up 8.5 points; and as of Wednesday, he was up 8.9 points. Not a single public poll has shown a Gomez lead.
Like the 2012 Wisconsin gubernatorial recall, this has been a competitive race, but not one where the outcome was all that much in doubt in the weeks leading up to the contest.
– Kyle Kondik
Accolades for Crystal Ball, Center for Politics
We hope you’ll allow us a brief pause for a commercial interruption.
The Crystal Ball was honored this week by The Daily Beast as part of its #BeastBest awards for the 82 best websites on the Internet. “Covering every gubernatorial and Senate race, and every tight one in the House, Sabato and his colleagues at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics have proven they can separate the signal from the noise.” The Crystal Ball was one of six political sites recognized.
Additionally, the University of Virginia Center for Politics’ latest documentary, Out of Order, has won an Emmy Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for Best Topical Documentary.
The film, which was produced by the Center for Politics and the Community Idea Stations and directed by Paul Tait Roberts, analyzes political gridlock in Washington, D.C. The Capital Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences announced the award recipients at its 55th Annual Emmy Awards dinner in Baltimore last weekend.
Out of Order: Civility in Politics explores partisanship and dysfunction in American government through interviews with prominent academics, journalists, political observers and senior (current and former) elected officials, including: Sens. Susan Collins (R) and Mark Warner (D); former Sens. Evan Bayh (D) and John Warner (R); Bob Schieffer of CBS News; and Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato.
We plan on displaying the Emmy in a place of prominence here at the Center for Politics, although we’ll be sure to move it safely out of sight if Russian President Vladimir Putin ever pays us a visit.
Thanks to the center staff, as well as our supporters and readers, for helping to make these achievements possible.
– The Crystal Ball Team
June 13th, 2013,
At this very early point in the 2014 race for the U.S. House, small Republican gains — as in, less than five seats — look likelier than a similarly small gain for Democrats. That’s because the Republican targets just look a little better than the Democratic ones.
While it would be foolish to rule out any outcome, there is no indication at this point that the Republican House majority is in jeopardy.
That’s obvious from our recent tweak of our Crystal Ball U.S. House ratings. Chart 1 shows the changes we’ve made since our last update (April 4), and Chart 2 shows the ratings overall. The House, which after last week’s special election of Rep. Jason Smith (R, MO-8) is now at full strength, has 234 Republicans and 201 Democrats. That means Democrats need to pick up 17 seats to grab the majority.
Chart 1: Crystal Ball U.S. House ratings changes
Chart 2: 2014 Crystal Ball U.S. House ratings
Notes: Members in italics hold seats that the other party’s presidential candidate won in 2012. *Signifies possible retirements or candidacies for other offices; **shows members vulnerable to primary challenge. Ratings for all 435 seats are available here.
Here are three, basic reasons why the Republicans remain heavy favorites in the House:
1. Democrats don’t have enough credible targets. There are only 15 Republicans listed in the competitive “toss-up” and “leans Republican” columns in the vulnerable seat listings above. Even if the Democrats were to hold all their current seats — unlikely — and defeat all of the most vulnerable Republicans, they’d still be two seats shy of a majority. Several of the Republicans in the “likely” column could move to a more competitive category, but just as many or more are probably closer to moving off the list into “safe” territory.
2. The national political winds appear pretty neutral right now. President Obama’s net approval rating is slightly negative: the poll average at RealClearPolitics.com put his approval/disapproval at 46.7%/48.0%, and Huffington Post’s Pollster average has it at a 47.0%/47.9% spread; meanwhile, Pollster gives Republicans a tiny 0.5 percentage point-lead on the national House generic ballot question, while RealClearPolitics gives the Democrats a small 3.3 point-lead. These are not numbers that argue for big movement either way, and a static environment is good for the party who already controls the House. If things sour for one party or the other between now and November 2014, history suggests it will be the Democrats who are harmed, because they hold the presidency. Not to mention, the dark cloud of bad headlines and scandals hovering over the White House could also harm Democratic prospects next year if they linger.
3. The Democrats’ most vulnerable seats are more vulnerable than the Republicans’ most vulnerable seats. Of the 34 seats in the highly competitive leans and toss-up categories — 19 held by Democrats, 15 held by Republicans — Republicans not only have an edge because they have fewer seats to defend, but also because they did better in their seats in 2012 than Democrats did in theirs. Democrats won their 19 toss-up and leaning seats by an average of 4.1 percentage points, while Republicans won their toss-ups/leaners by 6.3 points. In other words, Republicans have a slightly better and slightly longer list of true targets.
Potential Democratic House candidates who are mulling runs are probably aware of these basic obstacles, which helps explain why Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), concedes that many Democrats, particularly ones running in more conservative districts, would prefer to wait until 2016 to run, when Hillary Clinton might be at the top of the ticket.
There are only nine ratings changes in this update: seven are in favor of the Republicans, and two are in favor of the Democrats.
The first true retirement of the 2014 cycle, that of Tea Party leader Rep. Michele Bachmann (R, MN-6), has actually proven to be a boon to her party. Bachmann, because of her highly controversial history, could have potentially kicked away a heavily Republican seat. Now, her retirement — and the subsequent exit of her 2012 opponent, businessman Jim Graves (D), from the 2014 field — shifts this race off the board. Also leaving the list of competitive seats is that of Rep. Steve King (R, IA-4). Now that he is officially not running for the U.S. Senate, it seems unlikely his seat will be a target. Former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack (D) ran a spirited 2012 campaign against King — who like Bachmann is a conservative firebrand — but still lost by eight points in a district that President Obama also lost by eight points. Vilsack isn’t running again, and King should be fine. And now that Rep. Kristi Noem (R, SD-AL) has passed on a Senate run, her seat also moves to safe territory.
The two races shifting toward the Democrats have to do with candidate recruitment. Democrats are excited by the candidacy of lawyer Gwen Graham, daughter of former Sen./Gov. Bob Graham (D-FL), against Rep. Steve Southerland (R, FL-2) in a panhandle district. The area might be a little too conservative for Democrats these days, but Graham should be able to run a good race against Southerland. Meanwhile, former state Rep. Jennifer Garrison (D-OH) is being recruited by the DCCC for a run in OH-6, an Ohio River district now held by Rep. Bill Johnson (R), who — like Southerland — first won in 2010. Garrison may be a female Democrat, but she’s not someone who is likely to be supported by the liberal EMILY’s List: She’s anti-abortion, and she acquired a rather notorious reputation amongst Ohio liberals for winning a seat in the state legislature by running to the right of a Republican incumbent on gay marriage in 2004. At this point, OH-6 belongs on the list of competitive districts, although Johnson remains a clear favorite. (State Sen. Lou Gentile is another possible Democratic candidate in OH-6.)
We suspect that even socially conservative Democrats are going to have a hard time in Appalachia this cycle given President Obama’s immense unpopularity there; recall that Clinton destroyed Obama in this part of the country in the 2008 primary. Whether the shift away from Democrats in Appalachia is temporary or permanent will be a big question that a Clinton presidential campaign can help answer, but that’s a topic for beyond 2014. Other seats similar to OH-6 on our competitive race list are KY-6 and PA-12, which Republicans flipped in 2012, and WV-2, which Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) is vacating to run for the Senate. Keep an eye in particular on PA-12, where ex-Rep. Mark Critz (D) is considering a comeback against Rep. Keith Rothfus (R).
The other four seats with rating changes are in California and Illinois, two safe Democratic presidential states that could nonetheless have a lot of action in the House. They deserve a closer look.
Republican targets, Democratic turf
Ronald Reagan grew up in the Land of Lincoln and made his political name in the Golden State, and both states voted for him twice in his presidential victories. But these states are Democratic bastions now, and the party’s dominance in both extends to the congressional delegations: Democrats hold 38 of 53 seats in California (72%) and 12 of 18 seats (67%) in Illinois. Democrats picked up four seats in each state last fall, which, combined, accounted for their entire national net gain in House seats (eight seats). Redistricting — partisan in the case of Illinois, and nonpartisan in the case of California — ended up benefiting Democrats in both places.
Republicans hope that some of these seats snap back to them in 2014, when Obama won’t be on the ballot, and Democrats are trying to protect their freshmen while also seeing to some unfinished business in both places. More than 20% of all the races listed on our competitive charts are located in California or Illinois (16 of 72). Of those 16, Democrats currently hold 11.
The biggest shift of any House race over the past couple months comes in the district of Rep. Scott Peters (D, CA-52), which moves from likely Democratic to toss-up thanks to the entry of Carl DeMaio, a Republican who nearly won San Diego’s mayoral race in 2012. DeMaio, who is openly gay, is presenting himself as a new Republican focused on economic as opposed to social issues, although he “was more conservative than the Republicans whom San Diego voters generally favor for mayor,” according to a recent Los Angeles Times article. Republicans are touting an internal poll from late April showing DeMaio up 10, which is not particularly believable. Internal polls are almost always too optimistic for the side that commissions them, and Republicans have a “boy who cried wolf” problem in particular given the poor track record of their internal 2012 surveys. That said, this is probably a legitimate coin flip race in a district where President Obama won about 52% of the vote.
Another potentially close race is developing in the Greater Chicago area, where ex-Rep. Bob Dold (R) is seeking a rematch against the man who just barely defeated him in 2012, Rep. Brad Schneider (D, IL-10). This district is one that used to be held by now-Sen. Mark Kirk (R), so it has long favored moderate Republicans. However, President Obama won 58% of the vote here; granted, that might be a bit inflated because of the president’s home field advantage, but the partisan lean of the district is enough to keep Schneider a small favorite for now. Downstate, Democrats are pleased to have recruited Ann Callis (D), a former judge, to run against Rep. Rodney Davis (R, IL-13). Davis remains a small favorite in a district that Mitt Romney barely won, although he first needs to contend with a primary challenge from Erika Harold, a former Miss America (who also has a Harvard degree). A primary could do Davis, a relative political newcomer, some good — former NBA star Allen Iverson might not have liked “practice,” but some politicians could use it. The same goes for the top Democratic recruit in CA-31, Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar. A number of Democrats, including Aguilar and former Rep. Joe Baca, are competing for the right to challenge 2012 accidental winner Rep. Gary Miller (R). Given that Aguilar sleepwalked through the 2012 top-two primary and missed the chance to face Miller, a full primary campaign might do him some good.
Moving on to the competitive list, but only into the likely category, are Reps. Lois Capps (D, CA-24) and Bill Foster (D, IL-11). It wouldn’t be accurate to call them safe at this point, but they are heavy favorites to win reelection. Capps, 75, is sometimes mentioned as a possible retiree.
These aforementioned House races, and the others listed on the competitive race charts above, could dominate the political action in both states. California has no Senate race, and Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is a heavy favorite for reelection. Sen. Dick Durbin (D) should have a cakewalk reelection in Illinois, although the gubernatorial race could be competitive. That largely depends on what popular state Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) does; her entry into the contest could turn it into a snorer. Perhaps Brown and Madigan could provide some coattails in a year without a presidential race.
The wild card: Redistricting
It is an overlooked fact that in 2004, while President George W. Bush was winning reelection and Republicans were padding their then-advantage in the U.S. Senate, Democrats actually gained two House seats — if one discounts Texas, that is.
In the 49 other states, Democrats gained a net of two seats in the House. But when Bush’s Lone Star State was added to the total, Republicans gained four seats nationwide. A 2003 remap of the Lone Star State, masterminded by then-U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), led to a six-seat Republican gain there.
In nearly every state, redistricting is a once-in-a-decade affair that happens in a year that ends in an “01” or an “02.” But not everywhere, and not in Texas, which is accustomed to redistricting being a multi-year process.
Texas legislators are currently holding a special session to deal with redistricting. Basically, Republicans passed a House redistricting plan last cycle that was too friendly to their own party and not friendly enough to the minority population in Texas, which accounts for nearly all of the state’s booming population growth. A court altered the map for use in last year’s election, but the expectation was that the legislature would revisit the map this cycle. Gov. Rick Perry (R) and state Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) want the legislature to just ratify the court-drawn map for use for the rest of the decade, but it’s possible that such a decision would not pass legal muster. If the courts end up drawing the map, Democrats could make a dent in the state’s 24-12 Republican-controlled House delegation. (Under the current map, only one of the 36 House districts is truly competitive: TX-23, held by freshman Democrat Pete Gallego.)
Complicating matters further is that the U.S. Supreme Court is contemplating a challenge that could effectively end Justice Department preclearance of new redistricting maps in places with a history of racial discrimination, like Texas.
In other words, Texas redistricting is a mess, and it appears the courts will have their say: On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled state Senate redistricting committee approved the interim (current) map on a party-line vote, and the full Senate and House are expected to follow suit. Then come the lawsuits.
Florida, too, has an ongoing legal battle over redistricting, which could also lead to an improved map for Democrats.
Courts drawing different maps in Florida and Texas that allow Democrats to gain seats out of both places would be the electoral equivalent of divine intervention — a dose of which, having to do with redistricting or something else, is almost a requirement for the Democrats to have a real shot at taking the House next year.