2014 Gubernatorial Races: An Early Take, Part 8

There is a gubernaorial election in each of the six states that make up New England. In national politics, this region of the country contributes exactly two people- Sen. Susan Collins and Sen. Kelly Ayotte- from the Republican Party. GOP strength in the region is exhibited to a greater degree at the state or local level. When looking at this, two things become apparent: (1) they sure do have large state legislatures for small, relatively low population states and (2) although Democrats certainly hold the advantage overall, Republican strength is generally better in their upper chamber. In fact, in New Hampshire, their state senate is GOP-controlled.

Vermont’s incumbent Democratic governor Peter Shumlin will likely run for another term. With approval ratings in the mid 40% range in a near socialist state like Vermont, that is a guarantee for reelection. Afterall, this is the same state that gave us Bernie Sanders, Pat Leahy and Peter Welch- legislators so far out there on the Left, one would think they are Californians. The only potential Republican who might have had a chance would have been former governor Jim Douglas, but he has ruled out a run. This is a lost cause state for the GOP.

In Connecticut, Democrat incumbent Dan Malloy has not announced his intentions yet, but is likely to run again. Like Shumlin, his approval rating is 46% which, for a state like Connecticut, means the office is his for the taking in all likelihood. Malloy’s rise was short-circuited in 2006 when he won his party’s endorsement at the state convention, but lost the primary. In 2010, he finally won the office with 49% of the vote.

For the GOP, first and foremost Linda McMahon will NOT be running after losing out twice for Senatorial runs in the state. Instead, former ambassador and 2010 Republican gubernatorial nominee Thomas Foley will be running and had been itching for a rematch almost as soon as the 2010 election was over. It should be remembered that Foley lost by only a little less than 7,000 votes. A ballot shortage and a court decision involving Bridgeport allowed Malloy to take the lead in 2010. Heading into Election Day, Foley led Malloy in the polls. He would seem to have the inside track although state senator Toni Boucher, minority leader Lawrence Cafero or former US representative Chris Shays may yet enter the race. Whoever emerges, even if a Republican of the liberal ilk, and should they surprise Malloy, it would be an improvement since Malloy is uber-liberal. This race will be closely watched although. The death penalty played a major role in the race’s dynamics in 2010. It is likely that Malloy’s liberal record will be an issue this time out.

In Maine, Republican incumbent Paul LePage, who won a tough 3-way race the last time out, will run for another term. He won with only 38% of the vote. LePage was backed by the Tea Party and, quite frankly, there is nothing in his legislative agenda that should turn off that support. In fact, he is a rather strange site in New England- a conservative Republican holding statewide office. And despite his stances and Maine’s rather blue tinge, he has approval ratings at 41% (52% disapproval) which should give the GOP some hope of keeping this seat. Additionally, there will be no primary challenge this time out.

Democrats in Maine believe their best chance of victory is former governor Jim Baldacci, but he has thus far not shown much interest in a run although that could change. Their apparent back up is state senator Steve Woods who ran as an independent in 2012. David Slagger had declared his candidacy, but withdrew to run on the Green Party ticket. One thing for sure is that Chellie Pingree will not run for the seat. Most importantly for LePage, Eliot Cutler will again wage an independent campaign which may allow Page to sneak into another term as a plurality governor. Unfortunately for LePage, in hypothetical match-up polling to date, he would lose to Cutler.

However, the dynamics of this race have changed dramatically in recent days with the announcement that US representative Mike Michaud will run for Governor. Given his name recognition in a small state, there are no problems there and his congressional seat is relatively safe for the Democrats. In a head-to-head match up, Michaud comes out a clear winner. However, given Cutler’s apparent popularity in the state and the fact that in New England independent candidates have the greatest chance of elected office (Maine elected an independent Senator in 2012), polling shows that LePage would actually win even with the high-profile Michaud in the race. In other words, Cutler siphons votes from Michaud while LePage’s base remains committed to him and he sneaks in again with the vote somewhere in the 38% range.

In New Hampshire, which is perhaps the biggest political wild card in New England, Maggie Hassan won election in 2012 in what can best be described as a Democratic female sweep. Throw in Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, and it was a female sweep. Hassan will likely run again and is the only Democrat mentioned thus far.

The Republicans have some potential candidates who may take her on. The main problem is decisions to be made and options to be weighed. With the governor’s race in 2014, a somewhat vulnerable Democratic senator and two Democratic congresswomen are up for reelection. State senator Andy Sanborn recently reached out to the RGA for support and many believe that his best chance for higher office would be this race. George Lambert, another state legislator, is considering a run. He is a strong supporter of Kevin Smith who lost out on his party’s primary to Ovid Lamontagne (who will not run). Lambert is a self-described socially liberal, fiscally conservative Republican. Should Smith enter the race, Lambert has indicated he would NOT enter the race. There is always Jeb Bradley who may be a better choice to challenge Shaheen for her Senate seat, but is keeping his options open. The same can be said for Frank Guinta, but Guinta has the added option of attempting win back his former congressional seat also. The most promising name is Chris Sununu. That last name alone is huge in New Hampshire politics, although he too is considering a challenge against Carol Shea-Porter for her congressional seat. In hypothetical match up polling, he is the only won who shows any potential against Hassan. Obviously, the GOP political picture in this state needs to play out. Once intentions are known, then everything will fall into place.

In Massachusetts, relatively popular Democratic incumbent Deval Patrick, who only increased his standing in the wake of the Boston bombings, has decided on travel over another run although he is eligible for another term. Thus far, Martha Coakley, Mo Cowan and Lt. Governor Tim Murray have announced they will not run. Murray was the early favorite of the Democratic apparatus in Massachusetts. The only declared candidate is Paul Avellone, a former college administrator and surgeon. His political pedigree runs through Ted Kennedy to Gary Hart to Paul Tsongas.

There will likely be a challenge for the Democrats. State auditor Suzanne Bump is allegedly eyeing a run and state senator Richard Don Wolf. Former state DEP commissioner Richard Sullivan is also considered a possibility and what makes him an interesting choice would be that he hails from the western part of the state. Also, depending on how the Senate race shakes out- the special election and its follow up in 2014- that may affect the decision of Rep. Mike Capuano. Finally, there is Dan Berwick which brings up an interesting question: Where do failed Obama appointees go to win statewide office? The answer is Massachusetts where, if he runs and wins, would join Elizabeth Warren in that select group. Berwick was Obama’s nominee to lead some Medicare board, but was blocked by GOP opposition.

For the GOP in a decidedly blue state, there are some possibilties starting with Charles Baker who fought a strong campaign against Patrick in 2010. That campaign raised his political stock and GOP hopes in Massachusetts. However, he is also considering a run for the Senate. Daniel Winslow (great New England name) is mentioned a lot also. Karyn Polito would be considered a dark horse at best while Richard Tisei is young, experienced, and battle tested. This is the third electoral cycle where his name had been mentioned in Republican circles.

Some Republican operatives in the state believe that former Governor William Weld, who recently moved back to the state, would be a good candidate against any potential Democrat. For his part, he is said to be considering a run, but has also kept his options open. And there is always the most well-respected and known Republican in Massachusetts (or is it New Hampshire?), Scott Brown. Against any Democrat running for Governor, he polls the best for the GOP. IF Scott Brown enters any race in 2014 (there is speculation of a Senate run in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, or a congressional seat), my guess is that a run for Massachusetts Governor would be his best bet. So, for a blue state, there are certainly many options for Republicans.

In Rhode Island, the situation is much different. Incumbent governor Lincoln Chaffee, the Republican turned independent turned Democrat, which is where he should have been all along, is up for reelection and faces a very tough challenge. He has the dubious honor of being the governor in the United States with the lowest approval ratings of all at 28%. Even in a state like Rhode Island, that may be too much of an obstacle to overcome. Hell- that would be tough in Vermont or California. Originally, it looked like state auditor Ernie Almonte would put up a primary challenge, but he dropped out and decided to run for state treasurer instead. This creates a dilemma for the Democrats here: unless someone steps forward, they are stuck trying to defend an unpopular governor.

There are possibilities that exist in Rhode Island for the Democrats and one has to believe the party there is wringing their hands and working behind the scenes to nicely rid themselves of the albatross around their necks that Chaffee represents. Among those possibilities is Providence mayor Angel Tavares whose position is traditionally a stepping stone to higher office. Former state attorney general Patrick Lynch is also mulling over a run. Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts was seen as a decent replacement, but she let it be known that she would not seek the job if Chaffee announced he would run, so she is out unless pressured to enter. Former congressman Robert Weygand has been making some noise. What makes him an intriguing possibility is the fact he has a $3 million war chest, about what most experts believe it will take in a general election. However, the name that most piques the interest of the Rhode Island Democrats is current state treasurer Gina Raimondo. In hypothetical general election match ups, she consistently and easily beats any potential Republican candidate and in a match ups in a primary, she likewise does well against Chaffee and all others on the potential candidate list. The only drawback would be her ability to raise funds.

For the Republicans, the well-liked Brendan Doherty has announced he will not run, nor will Chaffee’s GOP rivial the last time out, John Robitaille. Instead, there are two declared candidates. The first is Cranston mayor Allan Fung who, it is said, sits with a decent war chest to begin his campaign. Cranston is Rhode Island’s third largest city and he will leave that position after a popular run as mayor. He will have to contend with Warwick mayor Scott Avedisian. However, the Republican Party in the state is not too keen on him since he endorsed Chaffee over Robitaille in 2010. What may also work against him is the fact that should Chaffee be the Democratic nominee, in hypothetical match ups, Fung- not Avedisian- consistently beats out Chaffee while Avedisian is up and down, but generally more down than up.

Rhode Island represents perhaps the best hope for the GOP in blue New England due to the dynamics of the local political scene. New Hampshire is also a possibility with the right candidate against Maggie Hassan. And depending on the eventual candidates in Massachusetts, that state may also be in play. Naturally, 2014 will not be some renaissance of the GOP in New England. Staunch conservatives have very little chance of winning in this area which makes LePage’s position all that more interesting. However, it could be a blueprint for the erosion of Democratic dominance in other states.

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