Updating 2014 Gubernatorial Races- Part 1: The Northeast

Having looked at the state of the 2014 Senate races thus far, it is time to look at the 2014 gubernatorial races slightly less than one year away. Generally speaking, gubernatorial approval ratings are important and somewhat predictive of their general election success if the incumbent is running for reelection. An approval rating of 46% or higher is a good sign while anything under 40% is a bad sign. Anything in between is dependent upon the party in power and the leaning of that state. For example, a Democratic governor in a blue state with an approval rating of 42% is in trouble and vice versa for Republican governors and red states.

In Maine, Republican Paul LePage will face a tough battle against Democratic US Representative from the 2nd District, Mike Michaud. Maine is a relatively small state, so their congressmen have statewide name recognition upfront. Also, Michaud hails from the more “conservative” of the two congressional districts in Maine. In 2010, LePage won with only 38% of the vote over an independent candidate. Strong third party or independent candidates in New England usually work to the disadvantage of Democrats. That same independent, Eliot Cutler, will be back in 2014 so one would guess this could help the chances of LePage. However, Michaud is clearly a step up from the 2010 Democratic candidate and considering that LePage’s approval rating is 39%, Cutler may not be the savior this year. More troubling is that in June of this year, LePage was at 41% approval and he has dropped in that time span. Still, hypothetical polling puts Michaud up by only small margins that can be overcome. Prediction: Democratic pick-up

In Vermont, Democratic incumbent Peter Shumlin is in a decent position for reelection. But, his approval rating took a hit when he proposed as gas tax hike this year and he drifted to 42%, which is in that gray area. Unfortunately, no Republican has yet stepped forward. At this point, prediction: Democratic retention

In neighboring New Hampshire, incumbent Maggie Hassan will likely face New Hampshire house member George Lambert, a decidedly pro-business Republican candidate. In June of this year, Hassan’s approval rating was hovering in the mid-30% range at 36%. Unlike Vermont, there are viable Republicans in the Granite State. It appears that as US Senator Jean Shaheen’s approval ratings drop, Hassan’s increase and she stands at 43% today. Some of the bigger names for the GOP like John and Chris Sununu, Frank Guinta and Jeb Bradley have declined a run. Prediction: Democratic retention

Deval Patrick will not seek another term in Massachusetts (although he can) leaving the field wide open. On the Republican side, only former candidate Charles Baker has declared his candidacy. In 2010, he ran and lost to Patrick 48-42% with the remainder of the vote spread among other candidates. He is described as a socially liberal/fiscally conservative candidate. There are five declared candidates on the Democratic side with Martha Coakley the biggest name in the mix. She, if you remember, lost to Scott Brown in the US Senate special election in 2009. Most likely, this will be a Baker-Coakley match-up. If not, then this race may be closer than if Coakley ran. Most early polling has Coakley safely in the lead. Considering she likely learned her lesson from her dismal campaign against Brown… Prediction: Democratic retention

In Rhode Island, Democratic Governor Lincoln Chaffee has decided to step down after one term. Considering that he had the lowest approval rating of any governor in any state whether running for reelection or not, it was a wise move. He likely would have been destroyed in a general election race. For the GOP, Cranston mayor Alan Fung is the only name in the mix thus far while on the Democratic side there is Providence mayor Angel Tavares and Clay Pell, the grandson of former US Senator Claiborne Pell. Polling indicates that either Pell or Tavares would defeat Fung, although in some polls Fung is tantalizingly closer than most would think. How this race develops will determine the winner as the economic interests, mainly employment, will dominate the discourse. It will be a closer race than most people think, but this is a rather blue state. Prediction: Democratic retention

Dan Malloy will seek reelection for the Democratic Party in Connecticut in 2014. The economy is sluggish in Connecticut and Malloy’s approval ratings for a Democratic incumbent in a Democratic state stand at 45%, just barely within that area for reelection. Six months ago, they were at 46%, so he has been holding rather steady. The most likely opponent will be Tom Foley for the GOP thus setting up a rematch of 2010. In that year, Foley lost by less than 7,000 votes of over 1.1 million cast. Again, a third party candidate likely siphoned at least 8,000 votes from Malloy. Regardless, he won with less than 50% of the total vote and no mandate which is reflected in his approval ratings almost from the start. They haven’t gotten better, but have just been hovering there- stuck in the mud much like the state’s economy. If Foley can take advantage of these facts, he stands a decent chance of upsetting Malloy. There is a dearth of hypothetical polling in the state, but one poll gives Foley a 3% margin over Malloy. Assuming (1) Foley is the GOP nominee, (2) the economy in the state does not show much improvement and (3) a third party candidate enters the race, this state may be ripe for a Republican victory. Prediction: Erring on the side of caution and incumbency with a caveat to revisit this race in the future, Democratic retention

Simply put, the state of the Republican Party in the state of New York is one of disarray. No really strong, high name recognition candidate has emerged as a challenger to Democratic incumbent, Andrew Cuomo. Incidentally, he reminds me of one of the California raisins. And defeating Cuomo will be a tall order. Unlike other governors around the country regardless of party affiliation, Cuomo’s numbers are consistently north of 50%. In fact, the latest approval rating puts him at 62%, an increase from 57% six months ago. Obviously, he is reaping the benefits of that state GOP disarray. Therefore, this is a “so what” state for the Republican Party. To me, the best strategy would be to run the most conservative candidate up the flag pole and see what happens. Hopefully, some of the veneer will come off of Cuomo along the way and set up future battles on the state and national stage. Prediction: Democratic retention

In Pennsylvania, the situation is decidedly different for an embattled Republican incumbent in Tom Corbett. To state that he faces a huge uphill battle would be an understatement and he has dug himself in a huge hole and it is hard to see him getting himself out of it less than a year from Election Day 2014. One would have to ask: “How low can he go?” Six months ago, Corbett’s approval rating stood at a dismal 34%. Unfortunately, six months later he is trending the wrong way and stands at 24% making him less popular than the aforementioned Lincoln Chafee as the current sitting governor with the lowest approval rating in the country. This all does not bode well for Corbett.

Perhaps the only positive thing we can say about this race from the GOP standpoint is that the Democratic field is VERY crowded with eight declared candidates. The most notable is Alyson Schwartz, a US Congressperson who represents Northeast Philadelphia and its suburbs. Talking to some Republicans in that district, she is popular even with them. She has consistently led in hypothetical polling against fellow Democrats in a primary scenario so she has emerged as the front runner. In general election polling, depending on the source, Schwartz leads Corbett from anywhere between 3-15 points. In polls of Pennsylvania Republicans, “someone else” has led Corbett on several occasions. The problem is that when “someone else” has a name, Corbett consistently wins. Its quite schizophrenic. And it is not as if there is a weak stable of Republicans behind Corbett. Regardless, at this point this writer just does not see Corbett crawling out of his hole. Thus, prediction: Democratic pick up

Finally, there is Maryland where Democratic incumbent Martin O’Malley is term-limited creating an open race. The problem in Maryland is geography. Other than certain conservative enclaves along the Chesapeake Bay and the Maryland panhandle, this state is dominated by the liberal DC suburbs and the even more liberal city of Baltimore and its suburbs. For the Democrats, there will be a tough primary fight between state delegate Heather Mizeur, state attorney general Doug Gansler, and current Lt. Governor Anthony Brown. Mizeur would be the first openly lesbian governor if elected. However, she is the weakest of the three candidates and Brown would seem to have the inside track at this point on the Democratic side. However, there are a lot of undecided Democratic voters out there and Gansler could sneak into the nomination with Mizeur playing the role of spoiler along the way.

For the GOP, there are currently four declared candidates and no clear front runner at this point. In actuality, the GOP primary campaign will likely be less contentious than the Democratic primary so the GOP winner will emerge more unscathed. Still, this is a blue, Democratic state and the GOP is a victim of political geography. Plus, given the electoral history- there has been only one Republican governor in Maryland in the past 47 years- it will be an uphill battle. Like New York, perhaps the best strategy for the GOP would be to run a true conservative candidate and let the chips fall where they may. Prediction: Democratic retention

Well now…that was depressing. At this point, it is looking like a Democratic sweep in the Northeast with two incumbent Republicans being defeated (Maine and Pennsylvania). This could be mitigated by GOP pick-ups in either Connecticut and/or New Hampshire, with the better chance being Connecticut.

Next: The South