Update on 2014 Gubernatorial Races- Part 3: The Midwest

There are ten races in the Midwest in 2014. Of those ten, Republicans hold the governor’s office in all but two, although one is term-limited (Dave Heinemann in Nebraska). All the others are seeking reelection. Of the two Democrats, one faces a tough fight for his job (Pat Quinn in Illinois) while the other (Mark Dayton in Minnesota) is not as safe as many once thought him to be.

In South Dakota, the only knock on Republican Dennis Daugaard is that his 62% approval rating is not high enough for a Republican incumbent governor in South Dakota. Still, this might explain why no Democrat has stepped forward. Prediction: Republican retention

In Kansas, the only thing that holds back Sam Brownback from another term is Brownback fatigue. He will seek reelection with no primary opposition and only token Democratic opposition in relative unknown Paul Davis. Kansas is a red state and even though Brownback’s approval ratings stand at 34%- actually down from six months ago- there is no reason to fear a Democratic victory at this point. Prediction: Republican retention

Likewise, Mary Fallin in Oklahoma looks even more likely to be reelected. Facing no primary opposition, she will likely face R.J. Harris for the Democrats. With approval ratings consistently above 60%, this is no contest. Prediction: Republican retention

In Iowa, incumbent Terry Branstad has yet to officially announce his reelection bid. Thus far, only Tea Party activist Tom Hoefling has done so. Should Branstad not seek another term, it is likely that Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds will run and have the inside track. On the Democratic side, the only two likely declared candidates are Jack Hatch and Tyler Olsen. The waiting game is on. Should Branstad not seek reelection, former governor Chet Culver could enter the race on the Democratic side against probably Kim Reynolds. This would set up a very close race. Culver will not enter if Branstad runs. Branstad, in hypothetical match up polling, beats Culver every time out. Coupled with the fact that his approval rating stands at 54% and is trending upwards, the only thing keeping this seat from falling into Democratic hands would be a Branstad withdrawal from consideration. My guess is that he will not take that risk, run and win. Prediction: Republican retention

In Nebraska, a very red state, Dave Heinemann is term limited. The Republican field is wide open with five declared candidates and another five sitting on the sidelines waiting to see if any front runner emerges. The Democratic field is one person- Chuck Hassebrook who ran for the Senate in 2012. It is difficult to find any polling at all on either the GOP primary or general election. Still, given Nebraska’s decidedly red shade, Prediction: Republican retention

With the easy states out of the way, we move into Minnesota. Democratic incumbent, Mark Dayton, currently enjoys a 48% approval rating. That is squarely in the range for reelection. However, before the Democrats put this one in their column, he is trending down after four years. For example, his rating 6 months ago was 53%. There are six declared Republican candidates with state representative Kurt Zellers perhaps the early front runner, followed by state senator Dave Thompson. In hypothetical match ups against Dayton, at this early stage Zellers trails by ten points and Thompson by 11 points. This looks about right as a final margin of victory. However, given Dayton’s downward trend in his approval rating, there is something in the Minnesota electorate that is questioning his leadership. Plus, Minnesota politics is volatile. We can go from a Jesse Ventura to a Tim Pawlenty, a Norm Coleman to an Al Franken, and a state that elects a Michelle Bachmann and a Tim Ellison to the same Congress. Prediction: Democratic retention

In Illinois, incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn faces a tough battle for reelection. Perhaps his most formidable primary foes would have been either William Daley, who withdrew, or Lisa Madigan, the state attorney general who decided to run again for her current office. That leaves Quinn as the likely primary winner against Tio Hardiman, a community organizer by any other name. Thus, things could not be better for the GOP considering that Quinn’s approval ratings have not been above 40% the entire year and given the financial situation of the state, do not look to rise any time soon. There are five declared Republicans with state treasurer Dan Rutherford and businessman Bruce Rauner consistently scoring above 10% with likely Republican primary voters. The most recent poll has Rauner at 24%. However, candidate Bill Brady, who ran in both 2006 and 2010, cannot be counted out. Brady came within 32,000 votes of Quinn in 2010 and would love a rematch against a not-so-popular incumbent. If there is any chance in the Midwest to grab an office, it would be here in Illinois. But, one cannot discount the sometimes dirty politics of Cook County and any Republican would have to “steal” a few votes out of this area plus hold the more conservative strongholds downstate. It has been done before and there is no reason to think it cannot be done again. Going out on a limb, but… Prediction: Republican Pick Up

With Michigan, Rick Snyder faces some opposition from within the party but that mainly centers on Lt. Governor Brian Calley who is not exactly a favorite of the more conservative GOP elements in Michigan. As for Snyder, it would appear he will run although he has not officially declared. For the Democrats, the field has been cleared for former congressman Mark Schauer. Leading up to his anticipated announcement, he was leading Snyder in the polls. Ironically, since announcing, he has been consistently behind Snyder. One poll from November has Snyder up by 13 points which seems a little askew. But then again, his approval ratings are trending upwards and currently registers 44% from 41% six months ago. Schauer is finding that the actual campaigning is tougher than the anticipation of a campaign. Prediction: Republican retention in a squeaker

In Wisconsin, Scott Walker has survived a few political fires and emerged from the union-instigated recall effort a stronger Republican governor. His approval rating stands at 52% which is up over the past six months which would indicate that the voters of Wisconsin like what is happening in Wisconsin. But this is Wisconsin where the political ideologies run the gamut so anything is possible. The daunting thing for Democrats is the fact that Walker, despite his alleged controversial policies (which seem commonsense to me), is riding a wave of popularity and approval and that although there is a more than capable stable of Democrats waiting in the wings, 2014 may just not be their year. That is why there are only two declared candidates: Madison School Board member Mary Burke and state senator Kathleen Vinehout. Preliminary polling would indicate that this will be a close race with little room for error on both sides, although all polls indicate a Walker victory.

Given the fact that real progress has been made in Wisconsin and that he won a tough election in 2010 and rebuffed an organized recall effort only to emerge stronger, one would have to give the advantage to Scott Walker at this point in time. Prediction: Republican retention

Finally, there is Ohio where John Kasich faces reelection. Ohio is certainly more conservative than Wisconsin and Kasich, Snyder and Walker are usually lumped in together. However, the problem for Kasich is those conservative elements that helped get him elected in 2010. His expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare has been the latest nail in his coffin among Ohio Tea Party elements. However, no one has mounted a primary challenge against him. Instead, the withholding of financial and moral support may hurt him more than a primary campaign challenge. The Democrats united early behind Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald. Thus it would appear these two will oppose one another in a general election. Initial polling shows a very, very close race that goes back and forth with the changing of the seasons. For most of the current year, Kasich has led only to fall behind, then regain the lead in the most recent polling. The problem for Kasich is that his approval rating has taken a ten-point hit down to its current 42%. There is still time to increase those numbers and they are not as dismal as, for example, Tom Corbett’s in neighboring Pennsylvania. Still, in order to prevail, he will have to win back Ohio Tea Party support. Perhaps he can best start with educational reform and move from there. Keep a close watch on this one. Prediction (at this point and subject to change): Republican retention