2014 Gubernatorial Races: An Early Take- Part 1

This is the first of an eight part series on gubernatorial races in 2014 and where they stand at this point in time. Overall, Republican successes have been greater at the state/local level than at the national level as evidenced by senatorial and presidential losses in 2008, 2010, and 2012. At the state (governor and legislature) and the congressional district level, Republicans hold a comfortable lead in seats. But, like the Democratic hold on the Senate, this opens the GOP to potential losses as the political pendulum inevitably swings. As was done with my recent series on the state of the Senate races in 2014, this analysis will be done on a regional basis starting out west where there are four races- Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, and California. Only one of these states is run by a Republican (Alaska) which in some years would represent an opportunity for a GOP pick-up given the number of Democratic seats. Yet, look at the states: they are all rather liberal with perhaps only Oregon a possibility, but a very long shot at that.

In Hawaii, incumbent Neil Abercrombie will seek reelection in 2014 having set up his campaign already. For a Democrat in a Democratic Party-dominated state, he enjoys an approval rating hovering somewhere around 38% which is usually enough for a Democrat in such a blue state. The only name believed to be any threat was Colleen Hanabusa, but she will challenge for the Senate seat. There lies Abercrombie’s main vulnerability. When Daniel Inouye died, his wish was that Hanabusa replace him, but Abercrombie went with Brian Schatz instead. When people complained, he was rather defiant.

No Republican has declared their candidacy so far, but there is the possibility of a 2010 rematch against Duke Aiona, the former Lt. Governor who served with popular Republican Governor Linda Lingle. In 2010, polls had Aiona within 6 points of Abercrombie heading into the election, but their true blue colors shined through and Abercrombie eventually won by 17 points. The rumors are that he is ready to take the plunge yet again. In reality, the bench is quite thin for Republicans in Hawaii and although Abercrombie may not be the most popular of governors up for reelection in 2014, he has the right letter after his name and should win his reelection effort.

In Alaska, Republican incumbent Sean Parnell will seek a second term. He assumed the state’s highest office when as Lt. Governor, then Governor Sarah Palin resigned. Thus, Parnell does not afoul of the two-term limit. There was speculation that he would take on Mark Begich for the Senate seat, but passed on that office. There will be at least one primary opponent- former Valdez mayor Bill Walker. Walker ran in 2010 GOP primary and lost to Parnell in a three-way race. Walker’s campaign in 2010 focused exclusively on energy but he promises that this time around his primary campaign will be on a greater number of issues and more broad-based.

For the Democrats, no one has yet stepped forward. Ethan Berkowitz, no stranger to statewide office runs (he lost the Lt. Governor’s race in 2006, a Congressional race in 2008 and Governor’s race in 2010), is always a possibility. The other name mentioned is state senator Bill Wielechowski, but he is considered a long shot at best. The problem for any potential Democratic is Parnell’s 46% job approval rating which, barring any unforeseen scandals or missteps, is almost a certain recipe for reelection.

In Oregon, Democratic incumbent John Kitzhaber, who is not term-limited, has not announced his intentions to seek reelection yet. However, one poll had his approval rating at 45%, then increasing to 50% after announcing his support for gay marriage in the state. In all likelihood, he will seek another term as he has not been mentioned as moving on. For the GOP, in hypothetical match-ups, Kitzhaber led the two most well-known Republicans, Gordon Smith and Greg Walden. Neither has expressed any interest in the Governor’s race. Thus far, only rancher John Justesen has announced his candidacy for the GOP nod. He is a political neophyte who hails from the eastern part of the state which is definitely not the center of political power in Oregon. Thus, there is a considerable name recognition problem. Perhaps people with some greater name recognition will come along. One name suggested is Allen Alley, the Chairman of the Republican Party in Oregon. He lost in previous statewide races for State Treasurer and in the 2010 Republican primary for Governor. A somewhat intriguing possibility is Bruce Hanna. The 2010 elections left the state house tied 30-30, so he is the co-Speaker of the state legislature. Thus far, he has governed in a bipartisan manner and he can tout those credentials. This writer sees him as the perhaps the most likely person to step forward to challenge Kitzhaber. If Kitzhaber should decide not to run, then his chances greatly increase. Finally, and this is an even longer shot, state senator Bruce Starr has been mentioned by some in Oregon as a possibility. However, Starr has some ethical baggage in his past having twice been fined for either disclosure or campaign finance violations. Regardless, Oregon’s political power center is Portland and its environs and they are decidedly liberal. While a Republican can win east of the Cascades, entreaties west of there, where the bulk of the population lives, is difficult at best. A somewhat liberal Republican would have to emerge and the planets would have to align to unseat Kitzhaber at this juncture.

In neighboring California, Governor Moonbeam, otherwise known as Jerry Brown, may seek reelection, although no announcement has been made. If he decides against a run, two other names have emerged. Jerry Brown currently enjoys a 46% approval rating, but that can change in one of the most taxed states in the country. His dispute with Texas Governor Rick Perry over job creation and business recruitment for Texas is something to watch.

Those other names are former representative and former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and do-nothing Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villagairosa. Either choice would actually be worse than Jerry Brown as each have obvious connections to some rather unsavory organizations and people in their political pasts. The election of either as Governor of California would complete the radical socialist domination of California. Solis’ career has been nothing but a series of connections to socialist and labor union causes. Villaraigosa has been active not only in socialist organizations, but also with radical Hispanic groups like La Raza and MEChA. A recent article in Los Angeles newspapers discovered that as mayor of Los Angeles he spent about 15% of his time dedicated to city business. Chalk that up to delegation, I guess.

The grand designs of Villagairosa have been dented of late given the LA media’s coverage of his lack of time spent on city business. Additionally, there are these facts to consider: he increased monthly trash collection fees for city residents from $11 a month to over $36 a month. His attempted take over of the city’s sprawling school district, a huge power grab if one ever existed, ended in dismal failure. There were allegations of campaign finance violations and nepotism in city jobs. Knowing he will be leaving office, instead of concentrating on city business, he has thrown himself lavish parties. Then there are the well-documented case of his marital infidelity and his sexual affair with a Telemundo correspondent. The bottom line is that his approval rating has plunged from a high of 61% in 2008 to the mid-30% range today.

Once touted as a possible vice-presidential candidate, Villagairosa’s ego will not dictate a quiet retirement. Instead, he aspires to higher office somewhere down the line. Solis has not really made any noise about the gubernatorial race, but instead has voiced interest in an LA County Commission seat. While many may consider this a step down, she would remain in her native Los Angeles and the county Commission is perhaps one of the most powerful local level bodies in the country, rivaled by perhaps only the Cook County apparatus.

On the Republican side, two candidates have declared thus far: Tim Donnelly and Abel Maldonado. Donnelly is a state representative and was involved with the Minuteman Project which monitors the US-Mexican border. In early 2012, he was arrested by TSA agents for attempting to carry a loaded gun onto an airplane. In short, he comes off about as wacky on the right as Villaigarosa does on the Left. Maldonado is a former Lt. Governor who was appointed to that office, but never won it in a race. He was defeated in 2010 by Gavin Newsom after winning the GOP primary. In 2012 in a realigned district along California’s central coast, Maldonado took on Democrat incumbent Lois Capps and lost, but garnered 44% of the vote. Maldonado is best described as fiscally moderate and socially liberal which for a Republican in California is still no recipe for possible success. Two very dark horses are Neel Kashkari who was a former Treasury Department official overseeing TARP and Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach.

One thing to consider in California that under their blanket primary system, the two candidates with the most votes in the primary go on the general election ballot regardless of party affiliation. Governor Moonbeam will be 76 when the election rolls around and he claims age is not a consideration. If he decides to run as many expect, with job approval ratings around 46%, he is almost guaranteed reelection. The scary part is the alternatives, so since any Republican has little chance of winning here, one would have to ALMOST hope for Jerry Brown. That is truly scary!

Next: The Southwest- Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas

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