Sabato's Crystal Ball

How 2014’s Gubernatorial Races Affect the Next House Map

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley September 26th, 2013

Control of the U.S. House of Representatives may not be at stake in 2014, if our recent analysis is correct, but control of the House in 2022 could be.

What’s that you say?

It’s simple electoral math. Many of the governors being elected or reelected in 2014 may still be in office after the next census is released in 2021. And they’ll have a fair amount of influence, often via their veto power or party leadership, on the House redistricting that takes place prior to the 2022 elections.

As we discovered anew in 2010 and 2011, the decennial redistricting can greatly influence control of the House for the better part of a decade (maybe the whole decade). So it really matters for the House who wins the statehouses.

Keep in mind that, of the last five elected governors in all 50 states, close to half — 114 — have served at least two full terms, and of those, 32 have served even longer (numbers that will eventually include some current incumbents). First-term governors elected in 2014 have a good chance to still be in office in 2021; some elected in 2010 could possibly still be around due to a lack of term limits. Two examples are Govs. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and Scott Walker (R-WI), should their potential presidential runs not pan out. Thus, the distance between 2014 and 2022 is shorter than you may think.

There are quite a few fascinating gubernatorial contests developing around the nation. Some are truly competitive, such as Florida’s looming heavyweight bout between first-term Gov. Rick Scott (R) and former Gov. Charlie Crist (R-turned-I-turned-D). Scott looked like road kill earlier, but he’s been bouncing back a bit, and will have nearly unlimited financial resources. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett (R) is in a world of trouble — just one in five voters believe he deserves a second term, and incredibly, just 38% of voters from his own party do so. That race continues to be a strong bet to see a party switch if Democrats can settle on a nominee from a large field without ripping each other apart.

Sometimes, a race for governor becomes a national fixation even when the state is noncompetitive and the outcome is clear. Texas is 2014’s prime example. The state’s attorney general, Greg Abbott (R), is virtually a shoo-in to take the post that Gov. Rick Perry (R) has held since late 2000. Yet Democrats have a national star as their potential nominee, state Sen. Wendy Davis, whose pro-choice filibuster in the Texas legislature (though unsuccessful) electrified liberals around the country. The once-dominant Lone Star Democrats have fallen on exceptionally hard times, holding not a single statewide office. Davis is part of their push to reignite the grassroots and develop a long-term farm team in a state that could eventually turn Blue (or Bluish) as its Hispanic population grows. Democrats have been bullish on Texas becoming competitive over the next couple of presidential cycles. However, that is a probably a pipe dream: Even if population and political trends continue, the state still may not have legitimate, vigorous two-party competition for another two decades.

We have just two rating switches to note in this gubernatorial update: We are moving Maine from Leans Democratic/Independent to Leans Democratic, and Massachusetts from Toss-up to Leans Democratic, for reasons discussed later. Below are our thoughts on some of the 2014 races (along with Virginia’s 2013 contest). This piece does not address every race — only those where we believe there are significant recent developments to discuss. We’ll do a full update again before the end of the year, and we’ll continue to tweak our ratings as developments merit.

Map 1: Crystal Ball gubernatorial race ratings

Note: For a full list of our gubernatorial ratings, please click here.

Chart 1: Crystal Ball gubernatorial race rating changes

Arizona: Last week, state House Minority Leader Chad Campbell (D) announced that he would not seek the Democratic nomination, leaving ex-State Board of Regents President Fred DuVal (D) as the party’s likely nominee. But while the Democratic field may already be settled, many Republicans have declared their intention to run, setting up a potentially crowded battle for the GOP nod. The possible early favorite, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett (R), announced last week that he will indeed run for governor. His main competition may be the other statewide officeholder in the race, state Treasurer Doug Ducey (R). But there are at least three other Republicans vying for the party’s nomination, and given the turbulence seen in some recent GOP primaries, it’s anyone’s guess just how this will play out. While the race is still LEANS REPUBLICAN because of the Grand Canyon State’s natural tilt, it could turn out to be surprisingly competitive, particularly if there’s a nasty GOP primary.

California: What a long, strange trip it’s been for Jerry Brown. Like his California political opposites Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, his lengthy, prominent national career has colored decades of our politics. Unlike Nixon and Reagan, he never became president despite a few tries, but Brown has his own distinction: a soon-to-be four-term governor of California, with the first two terms separated by 28 years from the final two. We say “final” because California’s two-term limit will apply to Brown after his second pair of terms. Even Jerry Brown has to ride off into the sunset eventually. To many people’s surprise, given Brown’s checkered career, he has had an accomplished third term, and the ungovernable Bear Flag Republic is looking less grisly of late. It isn’t just Brown’s achievements; it is that California has become as one-party in the Democratic direction as Texas has in the Republican. The population is majority-minority, and with Democrats winning an average of 80% of all minorities combined, winning for a Democrat is simply a matter of get-out-the-vote. The enfeebled Republicans have done it to themselves by being far too conservative, inflexible and inclined to nominate poor candidates. The next victim will apparently be ex-Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado (R), one of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s No. 2’s. Maldonado barely has a base, even among Hispanics, and his campaign team recently fell apart. The once-mighty Golden State GOP is a pitiful sight, and there are few signs of regeneration — which would require coming to terms with ideological reality. SAFE DEMOCRATIC

Colorado: The list of potential Republican challengers for incumbent Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is growing: Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler (R) announced his candidacy last week, joining ex-Rep. Tom Tancredo (R) and state Sen. Greg Brophy (R) as declared candidates for the GOP nomination, with others, such as former state Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp (R), still interested in the race. Given Tancredo’s previous loss to Hickenlooper in 2010 and his controversial positions regarding immigration in an increasingly diverse state, the establishment would probably like to avoid a Tancredo nomination. Whatever happens on the GOP side, it’s clear that Hickenlooper should be fretting a bit about his reelection chances. The recent recall of two state Senate Democrats after the Democratic-controlled state legislature passed more restrictive gun control measures is being taken as a defeat for Hickenlooper, who signed the legislation into law. Additionally, a late August Quinnipiac poll found him getting less than 50% in hypothetical matchups against Tancredo, Gessler and Brophy. Still, that poll found Hickenlooper’s approval at a decent 49%, and he may be in a position to restore some of his luster with his handling of the flood crisis in the Centennial State. The natural disaster has given him an opportunity to show apolitical leadership. In fact, Gessler caught some flak for announcing his bid in the midst of flood rescue operations. LEANS DEMOCRATIC

Connecticut: It looks as though there will be a rematch between freshman Gov. Dan Malloy (D) and the Republican who nearly defeated him in 2010, former Ambassador Tom Foley. In a bright Blue state, one might think that Malloy would have a discernible edge, but so far he doesn’t. Personal popularity has eluded him so far, mostly because of a balky economy but perhaps partly due to a grim visage. Granted, grimness is appropriate in a state that suffered the awful tragedy of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, and Malloy did his duty during the long mourning period and afterwards, pushing for a strong gun-control program that became law with bipartisan support (such as GOP House Minority Leader Larry Cafero). Meanwhile, Republicans seem likely to give Foley a second shot at Malloy because he came within 6,404 votes in 2010. Of course, that was a GOP wave election. Maybe if 2014 is similar, Foley — who is a bit stiff himself in public appearances — can knock off Malloy, but if not, Malloy will win a second term. By the way, most everyone assumes Malloy is running for reelection, but he hasn’t yet announced and some have wondered whether he could be looking for an Obama administration appointment. TOSS-UP

Florida: Here’s a guaranteed headliner for 2010, since the Sunshine State is featuring a remarkable match-up: incumbent one-term Gov. Rick Scott (R) against his predecessor, Charlie Crist (D), elected as a Republican in 2006 but now apparently the Democratic choice. Crist’s only serious competitor, former state CFO Alex Sink (D) — who lost to Scott narrowly four years ago — has decided not to run. Scott has never been popular; even during the 2010 campaign he struggled, winning in the end more because of the GOP wave than anything else. Controversies have arisen throughout his tenure over such issues as Scott’s rejection of federal funds for high-speed rail, the drug-testing of welfare recipients — which was later ruled unconstitutional — and a partisan-tinted reduction of early voting days prior to the 2012 election. At midterm, many were writing him off as an easy mark in ’14, and his approval rating has been mired in the 30s for much of his term. The doubters forgot about the power of incumbency and Scott’s enormous personal wealth, estimated at $83.8 million. He will spend whatever it takes to be competitive in his reelection battle. Moreover, a June Quinnipiac survey found his approval had ticked up to 43%, strengthening his position. Meanwhile, Crist’s political transformation has been swift and jaw-dropping. Once considered a conservative Republican, he gradually alienated the right — not least by a famous hug with Barack Obama. In a decision that looks quite foolish in hindsight, Crist decided not to run for reelection and ran for an open Senate seat instead. He had not counted on Marco Rubio, who personified the Tea Party trend (at least back then) and was headed to a crushing victory over Crist in the GOP Senate primary. Crist became an independent, ran for the Senate, and lost handily. His career appeared over, until he saw an opening on the Democratic side. Crist began to take liberal positions and endorsed President Obama for reelection. The former governor still draws support from the middle, and Democrats have accepted that he is their only real chance to recapture the statehouse. Expect massive spending, heavily negative TV attacks and a competitive contest. TOSS-UP

Illinois: For a guy who Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling deemed the nation’s most unpopular governor in November 2012, Gov. Pat Quinn (D) does seem to have some luck on his side. First, popular state Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) opted to run for reelection rather than challenge Quinn for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Then last week, former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley (D) abruptly ended his own campaign against Quinn, deciding that he actually didn’t want to be governor (though his fundraising troubles may have had something to do with it, too). Somehow, one of the most endangered governors in the nation, who squeaked into a full term in 2010, doesn’t have a primary, though there is still time for another challenger to emerge. Give Quinn credit for clearing the field, but Illinois Republicans must be licking their chops at the idea of taking on an incumbent this vulnerable. While there’s no recent polling measuring the pulse of the Land of Lincoln GOP, the Republican to keep an eye on is venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, who is leading the pack in terms of fundraising; he can probably bring some personal wealth to the race as well. State Treasurer Dan Rutherford (R), 2010 nominee Bill Brady (R) and 2010 candidate Kirk Dillard (R) also are seeking the nod. Democrats have had their hands on the state’s governorship since Rod Blagojevich won in 2002, but Republicans actually controlled it for 26 years prior, suggesting that the GOP can win here. TOSS-UP

Maine: A new poll finds Rep. Mike Michaud (D) at the top of the heap with 40% in a three-way contest, with incumbent Gov. Paul LePage (R) at 34% and Eliot Cutler (I), who just formally announced his bid, at 17%. This survey is just the latest one showing Cutler placing third, a sign that the independent may be diminished from 2010, when he nearly won and finished just two points behind LePage. One factor in this shift is the well-known Michaud, who will get more national support than 2010 Democratic nominee and third-place finisher Libby Mitchell. This development is clearly a boost for Michaud’s chances of taking down LePage, who sources tell us is more disliked for his persona than his policies. With the incumbent’s approval rating only in the high 30s, it’s clear that for LePage to win reelection, he will need Cutler to again win a large share of the vote. Will Sen. Angus King (I), a former Maine governor, endorse Cutler in 2014 as he did in 2010? King may be an independent, but he now caucuses with the Senate Democrats and benefits from the association. That could change his gubernatorial choice — or not; King is mercurial. But if Cutler lags, LePage’s odds of winning fall sharply, and should LePage lose, we believe it will be to Michaud, not Cutler. Because of this, we’re moving this race from Leans Democratic/Independent to just LEANS DEMOCRATIC.

Massachusetts: The opposite of Arizona, the Bay State has a very crowded Democratic field and one lone Republican. Having lost to retiring Gov. Deval Patrick (D) in 2010, it appears Charlie Baker (R) is going to get another shot at challenging for the office. Baker is the only declared candidate on the Republican side while others have demurred, most notably former Sen. Scott Brown (R). Who will face Baker is a many-sided question. At the top of the list is probably state Attorney General Martha Coakley (D), who just announced her entry into the race. Coakley is most famous for losing “Ted Kennedy’s seat” to Brown in the famous 2010 special election, a campaign where she was derided for not wanting to shake hands with people outside of Fenway Park in cold weather. This time around, Coakley immediately took care of that, though September is much warmer than January in Beantown. Her main competition for the nomination may be state Treasurer Steve Grossman (D), who has been building support in the strongly Democratic western half of the state. Coakley’s old foe from the 2010 special election Democratic primary, Rep. Michael Capuano (D), is also eyeing the race, having already hired a team of fundraisers and consultants. As the Crystal Ball has pointed out before, Massachusetts has a recent history of electing Republicans to the governorship despite its Democratic DNA. Still, Baker couldn’t win in a heavily Republican year in 2010, and the Democratic nominee could be in solid shape. So we’re calling this LEANS DEMOCRATIC, though it could still go the other way.

Michigan: Gov. Rick Snyder’s (R) appearance at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference this weekend — a Wolverine State GOP confab held every two years — spawned more than a little presidential buzz around the first-term governor. But before a possible long-shot presidential bid, Snyder first has to win a second term as governor. Snyder got a good poll recently from EPIC-MRA, a prominent state firm, showing him up eight points on his likely Democratic challenger, ex-Rep. Mark Schauer. That is a fairly dramatic reversal from a May survey that showed Schauer and Snyder effectively tied. Memories of Snyder signing right-to-work legislation in a lame duck session in late 2012 may be fading, and the governor probably earned some good will with moderates (and the state’s hospitals and business community) by leading the charge for Medicaid expansion. Voters also seem to appreciate how Snyder has handled Detroit’s financial crisis. We’re still calling this race a TOSS-UP, but at this point the race is closer to moving to Leans Republican than Leans Democratic. One thing to watch: While Snyder is nominated in a primary, his running mate will be chosen at a 2014 GOP convention, and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley is facing a Tea Party challenge from Wes Nakagiri. Calley dominated Nakagiri in a straw poll held at the Mackinac Conference recently, but who knows what could happen at a convention? Democrats would surely enjoy some Tea Party mischief.

Nebraska: The Cornhusker State is centrally located, but it’s the Wild West of politics in 2014. This is the only state with open seat races for both Senate and governor. Given the state’s strong Republican lean, these circumstances have attracted numerous GOP hopefuls for both contests — at last count, four declared Senate candidates and five gubernatorial ones. In the governor’s race, state Auditor Mike Foley (R) is probably the early favorite on the Republican side simply because he’s already a proven commodity in a statewide race, having won the auditor’s post in 2006 and reelection in 2010. But 2006 U.S. Senate nominee Pete Ricketts (R) and Republican state Sens. Charlie Janssen, Beau McCoy and Tom Carlson are also vying for the GOP nomination. While Foley’s strong conservative credentials may make him hard to outflank in a Republican primary, now-Sen. Deb Fischer’s (R) unexpected win in the party’s 2012 primary makes folly any firm prediction at this early date. Perhaps sensing that a Democrat could conceivably have a better shot in a gubernatorial contest than a federal one, two Democrats have actually thrown their hats into the ring for governor (versus no one — not a single candidate — on the Senate side): state Sen. Annette Dubas and former University of Nebraska regent Chuck Hassebrook, who just ended his tenure as executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs. A possible schism in the Democratic primary may be over abortion rights — Dubas is pro-life and Hassebrook is pro-choice. It seems very likely that Republicans will continue to control the governorship here, but with a large number of candidates there is much left to be decided. LIKELY REPUBLICAN

Rhode Island: The retirement of Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democratic Gov. Lincoln Chafee after just one term sets up a compelling primary between state General Treasurer Gina Raimondo (D) and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras (D), assuming both actually run. Raimondo is probably better known nationally as a potential rising star, but she starts the primary season as an underdog to Taveras. The main reason is that Raimondo is unpopular with the state’s powerful public sector unions after a pension overhaul in 2011. A Taveras-commissioned poll from respected Democratic pollster Garin-Hart-Yang showed him leading Raimondo 49%-30%. Raimondo does have a significant cash-on-hand advantage against Taveras ($2 million to $700,000) as of the last reporting period (June 30). The top Republican possibility appears to be Cranston Mayor Allen Fung, who could benefit from a nasty Democratic primary and Rhode Island’s longstanding willingness to back non-Democrats in gubernatorial races. Interestingly, a Democrat hasn’t won the Ocean State’s governorship in more than two decades; Chafee was an independent when he won in 2010. Fung could be hurt by Moderate Party candidate Ken Block, who won 6.5% in 2010 and who might run in the Republican primary. For a small state, this is quite a cast of characters. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC

Virginia: Terry McAuliffe (D) has seemingly had a rough couple of weeks, at least in terms of the newspaper coverage of a notable unforced error by his campaign. Few people had probably ever heard of the Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC), but after the group’s PAC decided to endorse state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) in the gubernatorial contest, McAuliffe’s team and its Democratic allies privately pressured the organization to change its mind. In the process, it came out publicly that during the NVTC’s candidate interviews, McAuliffe had lacked detail and bluffed his way through many responses, while Cuccinelli had been knowledgeable and precise in his answers. Thus, a ho-hum endorsement became front-page news, and McAuliffe’s poor interview became the subject of back-biting leaks as well as a Cuccinelli advertisement. Yet the latest polls must be deeply worrying to Cuccinelli’s campaign. Despite quite a bit of negative commentary for McAuliffe, the latest surveys by The Washington Post, Marist and Rasmussen found him continuing to lead Cuccinelli in the Race for Richmond. Of the available public polls, the last one showing a Cuccinelli lead came out in mid-July — that’s 12 straight showing a McAuliffe lead. In other words, even though McAuliffe had a rough stretch, Cuccinelli was unable to capitalize. Some food for thought: It’s entirely possible that the NVTC affair was just a blip on the public’s radar, with television media focusing more on events such as the recent endorsement of McAuliffe by the Republican mayor of Virginia Beach, the state’s largest city. We have seen nothing to change our pre-Labor Day LEANS DEMOCRATIC rating — including Wednesday night’s debate — but we will obviously keep a close watch on it from our home base here in Charlottesville. Republicans are fearful that Democrats will sweep all three statewide races in November — governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general — for the first time in 24 years, and they’re right to be concerned.