2014 Gubernatorial Races: An Early Take, part 7

There are three races in the Middle Atlantic states in 2014- Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York. In Maryland, a reliably blue state of late in statewide races, incumbent Democrat Martin O’Malley is term limited thus creating an open race. For the Democratic Party, there are several potential candidates but only Lt. Governor Anthony Brown has officially declared and received an almost immediate endorsement from the out-going O’Malley. But, most Maryland observers believe the path to office is not as clear cut as Brown would like to think. In reality, his greatest threat to higher office will likely come from his own party. In the past 50 years, Maryland has elected only two Republican governors- Spiro Agnew and Robert Ehrlich.

Three names stand out as potential challengers for the Democratic nod- state AG Doug Gansler, state representative Heather Mizeur-who would be the first openly gay female Governor-, and US representative Dutch Ruppersberger. Gansler is touting the fact that he is a proficient fundraiser which will come in handy in the expensive DC television market. He reported over $5.2 million in the bank. Heather Mizeur is probably one of the most staunch anti-casino gambling activists in the state assembly. She has been touring the state recently gauging support for a run. Dutch Rupperberger is a six-term US congressman from the Baltimore area. He is the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, but his term on that committee is up in 2014 which would make a gubernatorial run more appealing. He would satisfy the “Smith rule” in Maryland: DC metro voters will vote for a Baltimore-based candidate, but Baltimore area voters are reluctant to vote for DC metro based candidates.

On the Republican side, four candidates have declared so far. They are: Harford County executive David Craig, state representative Ron George, businessman Brian Vaeth, and Frederick County commissioner Blaine Young. None are particularly well-known names in Maryland politics, so there is always that problem. One person who could overcome that disadvantage is former RNC Chairman Michael Steele who is said to be considering a run.

One thing to consider (besides that woeful GOP electoral history) is that registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in Maryland by over 1 million voters. That is a tall hill to climb let alone overcome. Republican hopes have to hinge on something unforeseen at this point. Given these facts, it would be in the best interests of the GOP to simply run the most conservative candidate and have some fun along the way.

In New York, incumbent Democrat Andrew Cuomo, who looks like a claymation figure left in the sun too long, will likely seek another term in 2014. Although undeclared, he sure is acting like it. Thus, the Democratic field would be set. Republicans believe they may have an outside shot…if the stars align and unicorns learn to play harps.

Still, the GOP has to do something to rebuild the party in New York. Greg Edwards, who ran with Carl Palladino in 2010, was the first choice of GOP operatives, but has announced he will not run. Still, for a party in disarray, there are some choices. Most mentioned are Westchester County executive Rob Astorino, Dutchess County executive Marcus Molinaro, state senator Greg Ball and businessman Harry Wilson. Wilson, given his business background (Blackstone Group, Goldman Sachs, Yahoo) appears especially appealing to the GOP. The bottom line in 2014 will be to build up name recognition for a run in 2018 when GOP chances will be greater.

What gives Republicans hope is Cuomo’s sliding approval ratings. At one time they were in the stratoshere at 74%, but have since dropped into the more realistic 55% range. Republicans believe that Cuomo has made some strategic mistakes of late. The gun control measures pushed through in the wake of the Newtown tragedy have resulted in some backlash, especially upstate and in the New York City suburbs. Also, he has dragged his feet on fracking in the state. While other states are allowing the practice transforming their economies and creating jobs, New York is at a standstill. But then again, Yoko Ono is a state resident. Finally, some are upset about his purchase of luxury seats with the Buffalo Bills in order to keep them in the state.

In Pennsylvania, incumbent Republican Tom Corbett faces a real uphill climb for reelection. With approval ratings at 34% and disapproval ratings at 48%, he is skating on thin ice. What surprises me every four years is how pundits claim that Pennsylvania is in play for the GOP, yet this state is blue, sorry to say. While there are pockets of conservatism, the state’s political landscape is defined by Philadelphia in the southeast corner and Pittsburgh in the southwest corner. The central part of the state is reliably red and the key to electoral success is the Philadelphia suburbs.

If Corbett is to face a primary challenge, which is a possibility given his precarious situation, it will likely come from a state lawmakers like state senators Jake Carman or Dominic Pileggi or state representative Mike Turzai who chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee. No current federal congressman has expressed any interest in a statewide race and will likely concentrate on their own districts. Also, all the big city mayors in Pennsylvania are Democrats. Thus, although certainly weakened and endangered, Corbett’s biggest danger will come from a Democratic challenger.

And the Democratic sharks are circling which may actually work to the disadvantage of Democrats in Pennsylvania. In fact, many Democratic officials in the state worry quietly about a contentious crowded primary field which stands at six declared candidates right now. Two former state DEP commissioners under former governor Ed Rendell are in the mix. They are John Henger and Kathleen McGinty. McGinty entered after gauging financial support and claims to have an initial commitment of $1 million. Central Pennsylvania businessman and former pastor Max Meyers is also in the mix.

These would the long shots. The more likey front runners include state treasurer Robert McCord who has demonstrated he can win a statewide race. Importantly, he is based out of Montgomery County, an important Philadelphia suburban county. He is definitely coming at both Corbett and primary challengers from the Left having sought the support of the liberal activist community, especially SEIU. Former revenue secretary Tom Wolf has long been considered to be a challenger to Corbett in 2014 regardless of Corbett’s recent sliding numbers. In fact, he was chomping at the bit to run no sooner than Corbett was elected in 2010.

The prohibitive front runner, however, is northeast Philadelphia-based US Representative Allyson Schwartz. Mainly bouyed by a poll of Pennsylvania voters commissioned by EMILY’s List, it was thought that perhaps her entry into the race would scare some other candidates or potential candidates off. Schwartz hails from a district that covers northeast Philadelphia and its growing suburbs. She is also considered a leading congressional expert in the area of health care. Depending on how Obamacare plays out in Pennsylvania into 2014 towards Election Day, this subject will likely take on greater importance since Schwartz allegedly wrote many key components of the law. Additionally, lest anyone forget, there are at least five other Pennsylvania Democrats who may enter the primary creating a truly crowded field.

My educated guess is that Schwartz will emerge from the Democratic primary with some bumps and bruises. The fact that her entry into the race did not clear the field is evidence of that. Corbett may face a primary challenge since Republicans are also aware of his predicament, but it is hard to see them dumping an incumbent. That sets up a November race between Corbett and Schwartz. Hypothetical match up polling thus far puts Corbett behind Schwartz an average of about 6 points, McCord by an average 3 points, and leading Hanger by an average of 1 point. Thus, although behind and weakened, a six point disadvantage can be overcome. Rothenberg, Cook, and Sabato correctly rate this race a pure toss up. This writer would have to agree.

Next: the New England races- Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont

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