The 2014 gubernatorial cycle is shaping up to become one of the most competitive in recent years.
Now that the 2013 governors’ races are in the books, it’s a good time to look at the state chief executives from a national political perspective. At the beginning of the cycle, the Republicans held 30 state houses versus 20 for the Democrats, the best GOP showing in the modern political era. With Terry McAuliffe’s victory in the Virginia open race last week, Democrats have already gained one governor’s post, meaning the updated margin is now 29R-21D.
At this early point in the campaign cycle, it appears that as many as 13 races, nine Republican-held and four Democratic, should be rated as highly competitive. The most vulnerable of all incumbents standing for re-election are governors Rick Scott (R-FL) and Tom Corbett (R-PA), who trail potential Democratic opponents in all surveys. The most vulnerable Democratic seat is the Arkansas open (Gov. Mike Beebe, D, is ineligible to seek a third term), where former GOP Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR-3) consistently polls ahead of ex-Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR-4).
Among the Republican incumbents at some point possibly headed into toss-up status, governors Paul LePage (ME), Rick Snyder (MI), Susana Martinez (NM), John Kasich (OH), Nikki Haley (SC), and Scott Walker (WI) all will face stiff competition from either sitting or former Democratic office holders. Term-limited Gov. Jan Brewer’s (R) open seat in Arizona will likely fall into this category as well.
• LePage, elected in 2010 via a three-way contest that featured a strong showing from Independent Eliot Cutler, will see the same scenario unfold in 2014. This time, though, the Democratic candidate will be much stronger in the person of six-term Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME-2). Polling gives the congressman a slight lead, but Cutler again is drawing a large percentage.
• Michigan Gov. Snyder faces former Rep. Mark Schauer (D-MI-7), and appears to be gaining political strength.
• Gov. Martinez will likely face New Mexico Attorney General Gary King (D), son of former Gov. Bruce King, in a state that normally favors Democrats.
• New polling again brings Ohio Gov. John Kasich into a virtual tie with his eventual Democratic opponent, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald.
• Gov. Haley again faces the man she beat 51-47 percent in 2010, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D). With her lagging job approval ratings, this will be a tight campaign irrespective of South Carolina’s strong Republican voting trends.
• And, in Wisconsin, despite Gov. Walker convincingly repelling the 2012 recall effort against him, the Badger State again figures to be close in what promises to be another polarized campaign. Businesswoman and Madison School Board member Mary Burke is the likely Democratic nominee.
The most vulnerable Democratic incumbents are governors John Hickenlooper (CO), Dan Malloy (CT), and Pat Quinn (IL).
• It appears there is significant push back from Colorado citizens over new energy and gun control laws, thus making the governor vulnerable to a Republican challenger. The latest polls already show him running even with former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO-6), the man he defeated by 15 points in 2010.
• Connecticut Gov. Malloy’s job approval ratings also are tanking, making him again vulnerable to a possible challenge from former US Ambassador Thomas Foley. In 2010, this race between the two men ended as the closest result in the country, as Malloy won by less than one percent of the vote.
• Gov. Quinn, still reeling from the Illinois budget problems, has avoided a serious primary contest but will face tough going in the general election despite the state trending so strongly Democratic during the previous decade.
The 2014 political climate will have a major impact on all of these races, because the national issues will greatly influence the turnout trend. The remaining 36 gubernatorial campaigns will also go a long way toward setting the political table for the open presidential race that will immediately follow the current mid-term elections.