The 2014 Governors elections will bring up 36 seats. As a result of the strong GOP wave of 2010 the GOP will be playing mostly defense. However, they do ohave a decent shot in a few states for takeovers. Meanwhile for Democrats the map offers a plethora of opportunities for the party to take more than its current 20 Governors mansions.
Democrats best chances for taking Governors mansions lie in three Obama states where the GOP Governor is wounded. In Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett has dismal approval ratings and his party has openly contemplated abandoning him. Worse, his challenger is an avowed liberal with a strong base of support in Southeast Pennsylvania and its suburban liberal counties. Maine is slightly different. GOP Governor Tom LePage has always seemed to be living on borrowed time. In 2010 he won election with a mere 38% of the vote in a three-way race. His approval ratings are subpar and he has tried to pick fights with the Democratic legislature to bolster his conservative support. Unfortunately, there is no indication he will have a third-party challenger siphoning votes from his Democratic challenger. In Florida, GOP Governor Rick Scott has never been anything but a solid conservative. However, this has alienated him to swing voters. Recently when Scott tried to expand his support by supporting Medicaid Expansion the GOP legislature killed the effort. Democrats hope former Republican Governor Charlie Crist, now a Democrat after switching Independent to avoid a humiliating GOP primary loss for Senate against Marco Rubio, an appeal to these same voters. However, Scott has a personal fortune and strong campaign to count on. Crist is also expected to face a stiff primary challenge dividing the party along racial lines. Thus, Florida is no sure thing for the party. Maine and Pennsylvania seem to lean Democratic but Florida appears to be a toss-up.
A number of other Obama states would seem to give party hopefuls hope. That is until they consider the fundamentals of these races. In the West, both Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval and New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez have had to work with Democratic legislatures since their election. They also have distanced themselves from the national GOP on wedge issues such as abortion and immigration. The result is that both look strong for reelection and neither faces a series opponent yet.
The Midwest would seem to give Democrats hopes. Afterall, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio all went for Obama and they have GOP Governors (minus Iowa they also have GOP legislatures). But all GOP Governors, even if vulnerable, look formidable for reelection. In Iowa, Governor Terry Branstad has stockpiled cash and has decent approval ratings. The Democrats top recruit opted to run for Senate complicating state party efforts. In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder aka the nerd, has seen his approval ratings plummet amid controversial efforts to make his state the 24th Right to Work state and ordering a financial manager to declare Detroit bankrupt. Since these efforts his numbers have come up somewhat. His opponent, former Rep. Mark Schauer, has a base of support in suburban Detroit and can raise money. Yet Snyder is personally wealthy and his campaign reportedly already has oppo research on Schauer. Michigan appears to be a toss-up race but Iowa leans Republican.
Wisconsin’s GOP Governor, Scott Walker, is no stranger to tough elections. Since first winning office in 2010 he and his party have withstood judicial elections, state senate recalls and a gubernatorial recall. All this has allowed Walker to fine tune his campaign and raise an exorbitant sum of cash. Democrats are hopeful they can take him but no serious challenger has announced. Lastly we come to Ohio. John Kasich and the state GOP endured a rocky start to their control in 2011 but since then things seem to have evened out. Kasich’s approval ratings are stellar and the Democratic bench in the state is extremely thin thanks to 2010. He has been helped by moderate actions such as expanding Medicaid. Both these states have to be considered Lean Republican.
Democrats hope a few other states in the future become competitive. Yet at this early stage it seems their chances are limited. Arizona might be competitive but GOP Governor Jan Brewer has taken stances such as expanding Medicaid that has grown her base of support. Kasich, Martinez and Sandoval have all done the same and all seem better for reelection because of it. Of the other races that feature GOP Governors Democrats seem to have no targets.
Due to 2010 the GOP finds itself with few opportunities. But the party’s best chance seems to lay in Arkansas. The state has a funny political history, as it was one of the last Southern states at any level of governance to turn to the GOP. However since 2002 when it elected Mark Pryor (up for reelection for US Senate this year) and had two Democratic Senators, three Democratic Congressmen and a Democratic Legislature the state has voted for a Republican for President three times (by double-digit margins), has no Democratic Congressmen and only one Democratic Senator. The popular Democratic Governor is term-limited and even with former Congressman and Blue Dog Dem Mike Ross running against a former GOP Congressman and three time statewide candidate this race seems to be uphill. This state has to be considered Lean Republican.
Republicans have a few other targets. In the Midwest they hope to target Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton who seems to have angered voters by raising income taxes in the state for the first time in a decade. The GOP state party is a mess and no strong challenger has announced leaving the GOP in a pickle. In swing state Colorado, moderate Governor John Hickenlooper sure has moved to the left in a hurry. Elected in 2010 with 51% of the vote against Independent Tom Tancredo and a scandal plagued Republican, Hickenlooper has signed a gun ban, pardoned a convicted murderer on death row and passed climate change legislation. All this since 2012 (when the legislature again came under Democratic control). Tancredo seems ready for a rematch and the GOP wants to clear the field for him. More ominously for Hickenlooper is his approval ratings have dropped and Tancredo is moving away from strong Tea Party rhetoric to attack the Governor gun legislation and his pardoning of a convicted felon. Both these races seem to Lean Democrat but Colorado could become competitive if the state GOP gets its act together and Hispanic turnout drops due to midterm dynamics.
This is far from a complete analysis. Moreover it is a very early analysis. Party recruiting is far from complete and states completely off the radar, such as in Illinois, could become competitive if the state GOP finds a great candidate and a divisive primary damages the incumbent party’s chances (see Bill Daley running against Governor Pat Quinn). A red state such as South Carolina could also move to the swing column if GOP Governor Nicki Haley slips against Vincent Shaheen. But right now it looks like Democrats may only gain a Governor’s mansion or two instead of sweeping away the majority of the GOP’s gains in 2010.