Incumbent governors in trouble across the country
With so much attention focused on the Senate races – and rightfully so – little attention has been drawn to what may be an historic year in races for statehouses across the country.
Currently, there are 29 GOP governors and 21 Democrats. There are 36 of those state houses up for grabs on Tuesday. Of those 36, 14 are considered toss ups by Realclearpolitics.com.
Many GOP governors of blue states who were swept into power in the 2010 GOP wave find themselves in trouble. Corbett in Pennsylvania is a likely loser. Snyder in Michigan, and Walker in Wisconsin, are in races too close to call. Rick Scott in Florida is neck and neck with former Republican Charlie Crist in that swing state.
National Journal reports that up to 11 incumbents could be defeated – a feat not seen in more than 50 years. Here's a thumbnail of some of the most competitive races:
Colorado (Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper running for reelection)
Hickenlooper has faced an unexpectedly close race against former Republican Rep. Bob Beauprez, who has been aided by Rep. Cory Gardner's strong Senate campaign. Polls show a tight race and both parties are spending serious funds on their ground game, which will likely determine the outcome of both races. Hickenlooper's fate appears to be disconnected from the state's strong economic outlook; instead, Republicans are painting him as a weak leader after he reversed himself on the death penalty, offered conflicting accounts of his support for the state's new gun laws, and granted an execution reprieve to a convicted murderer.
Florida (Republican Gov. Rick Scott running for reelection)
The nation's largest presidential battleground is living up to its reputation with another statewide nail-biter this year between Scott and former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, now the Democratic nominee. Some in the state are speculating this could be a closer race than 2010, when Scott won by just 61,550 votes out of more than 5 million cast. The candidates have delivered competing messages on the condition of Florida's economy during their times in office while battling voter perceptions that neither is trustworthy. Democrats' biggest hope appears to be a smaller-than-usual GOP advantage in early ballot returns heading into Election Day, which could buoy them against Republicans' traditional turnout advantage in the state. Over $100 million has been spent on TV advertising in this state, and we still don't know who is going to win.
Illinois (Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn running for reelection)
Pat Quinn has been one of Democrats' most vulnerable incumbent governors for two straight elections now because of Illinois's troubled finances. But major investments from labor unions (some of which once hoped to defeat Quinn in a primary) and a hearty effort on Quinn's part to label Republican Bruce Rauner as an outsourcing, profiteering millionaire appear to be paying dividends in the deeply Democratic state. Polling has been sparse, but at least two recent surveys showed Quinn several percentage points ahead of Rauner, despite the $26.1 million of personal money the Republican poured into the race, making this the most expensive governor's race in Illinois history. Quinn had the thankless task in 2010 of running for a full term after taking over for impeached former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but Quinn managed to pull off a narrow win by less than 1 percentage point even as Democrats lost the state's U.S Senate race. It would almost be characteristic of him to once again confound his many doubters on Election Day.
Kansas (Republican Gov. Sam Brownback running for reelection)
The late surge of Republican effort on behalf of embattled Sen. Pat Roberts may help boost a troubled Brownback at the very end. State revenue shortfalls and a budget deficit widely attributed to a package of Brownback tax cuts tanked his approval rating leading into the election, and those local issues have continued to do Brownback harm despite the favorable GOP electoral climate. Polls show Brownback to be extremely unpopular, including among moderate Republicans who have flocked to Democrat Paul Davis in unusual numbers. Despite a Democratic effort to unseat Brownback that started way back in 2013, Kansas's deep conservative lean, and its big Republican registration advantage, ensures he still has a chance to hold on.
Wisconsin (Republican Gov. Scott Walker running for reelection)
Democrat Mary Burke largely kept pace with Walker in the polls and in fundraising through the fall, which led as recently as last week to recent public infighting among Republicans, who appeared ready to start casting blame for a potential Walker loss. But the final Marquette Law School poll of the race found Walker leading Burke by 7 percentage points among likely voters, casting a major shadow of doubt over her ability to actually unseat the rising GOP star and potential 2016 presidential contender. Walker's always had a slight advantage as the incumbent, and Marquette's final poll confirms that despite his polarizing presence in the state capitol, one that sparked recall elections against him and Republican legislators in 2012, he'll still be tough to beat.
Of those 14 toss-up races, there are 7 each from both parties. Given the propensity of toss-up races to break hard for one party or another, it is likely that one side or the other will gain 3-5 statehouses, with the Democrats' odds slightly better, only because almost all the governor's races are being decided on local issues and state governance. Pat Roberts may pull out his Senate bid in Kansas, but that is not likely to help Governor Brownback very much, as he appears headed for defeat. Similar scenarios across the country suggest that the red-blue divide will play a larger role in these midterms than it did in 2010.