T Minus 8: GOP Expands Battle for Statehouses

T Minus 8: GOP Expands Battle for Statehouses

While most national attention is focused on the battle for the US Senate, voters in 36 states will elect Governors on November 4th. The Obama Era has witnessed a resurgence of Republicans in state elections. This year, the GOP looks to solidify most of those gains. The party is also making surprisingly competitive runs in a handful of deep-blue states. No matter the national outcome, Obama’s true legacy may be a Republican party better positioned for the future. 

The Democrats’ poor showing in the states is perhaps best typified by recent developments in the Maryland Governor’s race. Obama won the state by more than 25 points in 2012, but campaign arms of both parties have dumped late money into a race that has become competitive. The Democrat candidate, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown had been expected to win the race to replace outgoing Dem Gov. Martin O’Malley in a walk. The Democrat Governors’ Association, however, has pumped $1 million into ads to help his faltering campaign. The Republican Governors’s Association has countered by $500,000 in ads. 

Brown is still the clear favorite, but Democrats have had to resort to playing the tired “race card” to ensure his win. President Obama even made a rare appearance on the campaign trail recently to attend a Brown rally. His appearance was marred somewhat when hundreds of attendees streamed out of the event early as Obama was speaking. 

A similar picture is emerging in the deep-blue states of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Democrat Attorney General Martha Coakley is running slightly behind her Republican challenger Charlie Baker for the open Governors race in the Bay State. In Connecticut, incumbent Democrat Dan Milloy is tied with Republican Tom Foley. 

Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage has a slight advantage in his reelection fight. Republicans are also running strong campaigns in Rhode Island and New Hampshire. The GOP are still underdogs in these latter two races, but it is hard to think of another time when almost the entire New England region was so competitive. 

The current RealClearPolitics average of polls predicts no net change in control of Governors’ mansions. That isn’t quite the status quo election the overall number suggests. Obama’s wave election in 2008 didn’t just solidify the Democrats’ control of Washington, it consolidated their control of state Government. 

After 2008, Democrats boosted 29 Governors against the Republicans 21. Since then, the numbers have completely reversed. Today, on the eve of the midterm election, there are 29 Republican governors and only 21 Democrats. 

Democrats are almost certain to recapture Pennsylvania, where the incumbent Republican Tom Corbett has alienated voters in both parties. Democrats chose an outsider businessman as their nominee in the Keystone State, rather than long-time politicians, and will be amply rewarded for their choice. 

Marquee races in several other states, including Florida, Wisconsin, Illinois, Colorado and Michigan, all show very close contests. A growing Republican advantage in turnout and enthusiasm gives the GOP an edge in almost all of these, though. It is not inconceivable that the Republicans add to their already historic edge in Governors, including a handful in deep-blue states. 

Governor races may matter most to the voters in each individual states, but they also provide a glimpse into the future national political terrain. Governors are the traditional well from which both parties draw national candidates. After 5 years of Obama, Republicans have several successful governors who could build national campaigns. There are far fewer Democrats in the wings. Eventually, Democrats will have to wake up from their infatuations with the Clintons. Who are the credible national Democrat candidates after Hillary?

In 2006, the future of the Republican party looked bleak. Swept out of power in Congress, the party was at one of its weakest positions in the states. The notion that the party, in less than a decade, would be in a position to sweep Governor races in New England would have been laughable. Obama has turned out to be the savior of the Republican party. Thousands of state legislative seats and almost a dozen governors’ mansion have shifted to the GOP since Obama’s election. 

The outcome of half a dozen or so Senate seats may steal all the headlines, but the races down ballot are perhaps more consequential. In those races, the Democrat retreat continues. 


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