2014 Gubernatorial Races, an Early Take- Part 2

Obligatory opening caveat: (1) I don’t comment on threads for the reasons cited by westcoastpatriot; I am computer illiterate. I managed it once, but I will be damned if I know how I did it. (2) The “smear” against Donnelly was no “smear” at all, only the fact that the Democrats will use that incident to paint him as wacky in a supremely pro-gun control state. (3) Under the assumption Brown will run, I cannot see Harris or Newsom challenging him. Both are young and 2018 may be their year. That being said….

The four southwestern races in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas all involve Republican incumbents. In this demographically changing region of the country with their growing Hispanic populations, maintaining control will be a potential test of GOP outreach to that community and popularity of the Republican brand. Thus far, of the four incumbents, only Jan Brewer- who may or may not be term limited (more on that later)- has the lowest approval ratings at 31% while in neighboring New Mexico, Susana Martinez enjoys a high 62% approval rating with Brian Sandoval in Nevada not that far behind at 59%. Rick Perry in Texas comes in a national average at 42%.

In Nevada, Brian Sandoval easily beat Rory Reid for the job in 2010. Reid is the son of Harry Reid. He has thus far decided against another run and with good reason- he got his ass kicked in 2010. Sandoval has one of the highest approval ratings for a Governor in the United States at 59%. Democrats had hoped to hurt his chances in the legislative session, but Sandoval thwarted those efforts with victories on taxes and educational funding. Hence, the high approval rating. Sandoval is well-liked and well financed for another gubernatorial run as he has declared his candidacy stating that the job is not completed. An equally important consideration is that Sandoval is Hispanic in a state with a growing Latino population. Thus, with Sandoval running, there are no Republicans on the horizon to challenge him, nor is there reason for a challenge. Sandoval has also shown an ability to work productively with a Democratic-controlled legislature.

There are some potentially strong Democratic challengers being mentioned. At the top of everyone’s list Nevada attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto. She has a high name recognition in the state having won a $1.5 billion lawsuit against major banks for deceptive practices that led to foreclosures in Nevada. Nevada was sort of ground zero in the housing bubble economic collapse of 2009. Besides having the reputation of being a tough attorney, Democratic operatives also point out that she is a relatively young, well-liked and Hispanic. That last fact has many believing she can peel off some of the Latino vote from Sandoval in a general election. Additionally, many woman groups are lining up to support her should she run as she represents the best chance to be Nevada’s first female governor. Former state assemblywoman Barbara Buckley has been mentioned and she is thought to be considering a run. One thing to her advantage is that she has over $800,000 in the bank. According to some sources, the Democrats in Nevada are also trying to recruit Steve Sisolak, a Clark County commissioner, to run for the seat. He is considered a rising star in Democratic circles in Nevada. Finally, there is Ross Miller, the current Nevada secretary of state, another rising star. However, many in the state seem to believe that the logical next step would be a run for state attorney general which may come sooner rather than later especially if Masto runs for governor. If this writer was a betting person, I would predict a Sandoval-Masto contest in November, 2014.

Susana Martinez will definitely run for reelection in New Mexico in 2014. Thus, the Republican field is set as the Governor enjoys approval ratings of 62%, making her one of the most popular incumbents running for another term. What makes this especially important is the fact that New Mexico has been increasingly drifting to blue status of late. Democrats in the state, however, seriously believe that with the right candidate she can be beaten.

So far, there are two declared candidates- Gary King, the current state attorney general and Albuquerque-based state senator Linda Lopez. King was the first to declare soon after the 2012 general election. King is the son of a former popular governor. However, King has some problems as a former campaign operative for Martinez stole e-mails and passed them on to the Democrats who then used the e-mails in a court case. This was detailed by Moe Lane of this website and deserves a reading. This brewing scandal is coming dangerously close to King and may tarnish his reputation in the primary and certainly in a general election should he emerge from the primary. That would leave the other declared candidate, Linda Lopez, as the front runner at this early stage. She can best be described as your average liberal or progressive. According to reports out of New Mexico, some other names considering a run for the Democrats are state senator Joseph Cervantes, state senator Howie Morales and state representative Antonio Maestas- all Hispanic. State senator Timothy Keller is also mentioned although he was recently elevated to majority whip and many see him as the natural next state treasurer rather than Governor.

No matter the outcome, any Democrat will have to overcome the approval ratings and financing of Martinez. Martinez is considered a rising star in the Republican Party. Despite protestations to the contrary, she was allegedly considered as a vice-presidential possibility in 2012. Her speech at the RNC convention did nothing to tarnish her rising national image within Republican ranks.

Rick Perry has thus far failed to confirm that he will run for a fourth term as Texas governor although most experts in Texas believe he will run. Texas governors are not term-limited. He certainly enjoys a high national and state profile and has been at the center of controversy along the way. Still, in 2010 he garnered 38% of the Hispanic vote against former Houston mayor Bill White. If he does run, he will face a primary challenge as three other candidates are not waiting around for Perry to make his decision. Perennial candidate and Texas secessionist Larry Kilgore is beatable enough as is former Univision personality Miriam Martinez. Considered a political newcomer, she fought a very dirty campaign in a Rio Grande state legislative district in 2012 accusing her opponent of illegal drug use among other things. Former GOP Chairman in Texas Tom Pauken would likely be Perry’s most formidable primary opponents at this point. One potential rival, attorney general Greg Abbott is also mentioned although according to Perry, he will not seek the office should Perry decide to run. If Perry decides against a run, it is highly likely Abbott would enter the race and be the odds on favorite to win. If not, then Abbott will likely run for Lt. Governor and likely win and depending on Perry’s future political aspirations may just end up governor sooner or later.

On the Democratic side, no one has declared yet although there is a list of possibilities starting with the aforementioned Bill White. Thus far, he has kept a low profile and whether he wants to try another run against Perry in 2014 remains questionable. Instead, a run against Senator John Cornyn sounds like a more likely path. Rafael Ancheta, a state representative, is considered a rising star, Hispanic and would likely perform well with the 18-35 year old demographic. Another Latino possibility is San Antonio-based state representative Mike Villareal. Also considered a possibility for statewide elected office, he comes off as serious and appealing. Besides being Latino, he is also young and has been a very strong campaigner in the past. However, whether he can translate that into a race statewide, which is often a marathon requiring money, is another beast altogether. Finally, there is the former Austin mayor Kirk Watson who lost the 2002 election for state AG to Abbott. He is currently a state senator and well-known and liked in that body.

My best guess is that a Perry-Abbott ticket will emerge before the filing deadline and that White will forego another run for Governor and that one of these listed potentials will emerge as the eventual Democratic nominee. It should be noted that popular state senator Wendy Davis and equally popular San Antonio mayor Julian Castro have decided against a run. Both are young enough with enough options for the future, but have opted for another term in their current jobs.

Finally, in Arizona there is a unique situation that somewhat muddles this race. Technically, incumbent firebrand GOP Governor Jan Brewer is term limited. She and her lawyers insist there is ambiguity in the phrase “term.” Brewer became governor when Janet Napolitano left that position and through Arizona succession, Brewer, then the secretary state, assumed the job. She served over a year from early 2009 until she was duly elected in 2010. The issue is whether that first 22-month term counts as a “term” for limiting purposes. Even if she prevails legally, Brewer would meet some obstacles in her march to reelection. Although she has attracted national attention over her run-ins with the Obama administration, she does not enjoy high approval ratings among Arizona voters.

Republicans are not waiting around for for legal clarification as three candidates have declared their candidacy. It is unclear if they would drop out if Brewer prevails in the courts. Hugh Hallman, the former mayor of Tempe has declared and said he will largely self-finance his run estimating it will take about $2 million. State senator Al Melvin is another candidate and said he will make school vouchers and caps on jury awards the centerpiece of his campaign. There is one problem: the Arizona Supreme Court has already ruled that both would require a state constitutional amendment. Then there is Andrew Thomas, the former attorney for Maricopa County who was recently disbarred over a finding that he used his prosecution powers for political purposes. He claims that he was rooting out county corruption and being targeted as a result. Regardless, he has some serious baggage going forward.

There are some other names like Wil Cardon, state treasurer Doug Ducey, state AG Tom Horne, and state senator Steve Pierce. However, the one name that may prove pivotal is Martha McSally, a retired Air Force colonel. She was the GOP nominee in southern Arizona’s 2nd congressional district in 2012 eventually losing to Democrat Ron Barber by less than 1%. Thus, McSally has two options- a gubernatorial run or another run at Barber’s seat which is considered one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent seats in the House in 2014. Definitely a rising star in Arizona GOP circles, she claims she is being actively recruited by operatives for both jobs. In fact, Arizona Republicans are so high on McSally that they believe she is a natural successor to John McCain whenever he retires from the Senate. McCain’s term expires in 2016 and should he decide to retire, that may be McSally’s year. She will likely think long and hard although this writer believes that another congressional run is more likely, more winnable, and a better stepping stone to a senatorial run in the future.

On the Democratic side, only former Clinton staffer Fred DuVal has declared his candidacy. One potential candidate, former Tempe mayor Neil Giuliano, considered by some to be a good choice, has declined a run and endorsed DuVal. Likewise, Felicia Rotellini, an attorney, declined a run opting instead for the state AG race while the one candidate Democrats felt their best chance, Richard Carmona, has ruled himself out. Still, there are some strong potential Democrats like state representative Chad Campbell and Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton. An interesting possibility in a state dominated by the immigration debate would be Border and Customs official Marco Lopez who is also the former mayor of Nogales.

In the end, in Arizona there are interesting and strong candidates on both sides. First, Brewer’s legal issue must be resolved. After reading the state constitution as it applies to executive term limits, Brewer has little legal room to argue her case. It specifically states that a term shall “include any part of a term served.” Thus unless one of the potential Republicans like Cardon, Ducey or especially McSally enter the race, Republican control of the governor’s office is seriously threatened. DuVal may not be the optimal choice of the Democrats, but all the declared Republicans have problems of a state name recognition, fundraising ability, or ethical/political position problems. That would leave at the current time only Hugh Hallman as the best possibility at this point in time. The Democratic Party will fight hard for this office in 2014 and it is important to thwart those efforts and build a GOP wall against the encroachment of the Democratic Party is what is generally a reliable red state.

Next: The races in Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado, the Mountain states