Governors 2014: The Incumbent Avalanche
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