The 2016 Gubernatorial Races: A Real Early Take

There will 11 gubernatorial races in 2016, seven of them currently held by Democrats.  In the four states with Republican Governors, the only state to really worry about is North Carolina.  Meanwhile, of the seven states where there are Democratic Governors, three of them went for both McCain and Romney in the past two presidential elections.  Thus, using this metric alone, the question is whether the GOP can pick up seats in Montana, Missouri and West Virginia.  Besides Jay Nixon being term-limited in Missouri, Jack Markell in Delaware and Earl Ray Tomblin in West Virginia are also term limited.  Before looking at Democratic seats, let’s see how much defense the GOP must play in 2016.

In Utah, we know that Gary Herbert will seek reelection and he would be assured a victory given the deep red status of Utah.  Regardless, his approval ratings remain high.  Jack Darymple in North Dakota has not officially made known his intentions, but should he decide on another run, he too would likely win reelection.  Personally, reigning over a state in the midst of an economic revival can pay great dividends down the road after a second successful term.  In Indiana, Mike Pence’s name has come up in presidential talk but he has made no indications he is leaning that way.  Although one should never say “never,” Pence left Washington once in favor of his home state and I personally do not believe he is in any hurry to get back to DC.  He remains highly popular in his state and I am expecting him to not only run, but to win handily in 2016.

That leaves Pat McCrory in North Carolina.  To hear the Leftist mainstream media talk, McCrory is a dead man come 2016.  They claim that his policies and actions have met with opposition from the residents of North Carolina.  The only people riled up in North Carolina are the liberals and their proxies who they bus in from out of state to make the protest numbers look better than what they truly are.  There are currently two Democratic opponents- state attorney general Roy Cooper and Kenneth Spaulding, a former state representative.  They will likely go with Cooper who garnered the most votes of any candidate for any office in 2008.  The Democrats have been after him to run for another office and he declined runs for the US Senate against [mc_name name=’Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’B001135′ ] and another run for Governor in 2012.  His tenure as attorney general has been relatively trouble-free.  He has described McCrory as an “extremist.”  Whether this rhetoric works remains to be seen.  If there is a seat to be lost for the GOP among Governors, this is the most likely.

Under a worst case scenario, let’s just say McCrory loses.  Where can the Republicans play offense?  Jack Markell in Delaware is term-limited and this is a reliably blue state.  Given the name recognition and pedigree, it would seem likely that Beau Biden will easily win this seat come 2016.  Having suffered a mild stroke, the only thing of concern is his health.  But, scratch Delaware off the list of possibilities.  In Washington, another fairly reliable blue state, Democratic incumbent Jay Inslee’s intentions are unknown at this point.  In 2012, he won a surprisingly close race against Republican Rob McKenna.  Thus far, McKenna has declined another run.  The two most intriguing names for the GOP would be Michael Baumgartner, who ran for US Senate in 2012 and made a better than expected showing, or state representative Cathy Dahlquist.  One other name of note is [mc_name name=’Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’R000578′ ] who said he will consider a run for the GOP.  Regardless, Inslee will be difficult to unseat considering he has approval ratings of 45% which is usually just enough to get an incumbent reelected.

Steve Bullock in Montana has not let his intentions be known either at this point nor has any Republican stepped forward.  Working under the assumption that Bullock will run, one would have to believe he will be reelected.  In Vermont, Peter Shumlin had to face a closer-than-expected race in 2014.  Vermont will not be in play in the presidential or senatorial sweepstakes in 2016, but the fact the GOP came dangerously close in 2014 indicates that Shumlin has some problems in Vermont.  That “something” is his reliance on a single-payer health care system that self-imploded and lies in disgrace.  However, despite the demonstrated failures of Democratic policies, don’t look to Vermont to pick up a seat either.  After all, this is the same state that once gave us Howard Dean.

In neighboring New Hampshire there are some rumors that Maggie Hassan may step down as Governor and challenge [mc_name name=’Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’A000368′ ] for her Senate seat.  Hassan, like Shumlin, had some problems getting reelected in 2014 and those problems may prompt her to make a run against Ayotte.  Thus far, Ayotte polls ahead in a hypothetical match up against Hassan.  The only GOP name I’ve heard thus far is Nashua mayor Donnalea Lozeau.  This is a sleeper race with too many unknowns at this point and may come down to how the state votes in the presidential election.  Working on an assumption that Hassan does run again, I would not be looking here to pick up a seat UNLESS it becomes an open race.

That brings us to Missouri where embattled Democratic Governor Jay Nixon is, thankfully, term-limited.  Given his handling of events in Ferguson, he is dead politically until he revamps his image.  No one has stepped forward for the Democratic Party although Chris Koster (the state attorney general) and Joe Maxwell (former Lt. Governor) are considering a run.  On the GOP side, Catherine Hanaway, a state representative, is running.  Although she may receive a primary challenge, this seat looks ripe for the picking and will likely become Republican thus negating the possible loss of North Carolina.

Finally, there is West Virginia- an oddly intriguing state that many consider red.  Yet, when it comes to state offices, Democrats have held their own.  Most of this is a legacy of the unionized mining force and their propensity to vote Democratic.  Even the West Virginia Democrats acknowledge that they are now the most conservative of the Democratic lot.  This will be an open seat which gives the GOP a better than average chance.

My guess is that no one will leave the US House to run for Governor.  Instead, the candidates will likely come from the state legislature.  Some have mentioned Natalie Tennant on the Democratic side but her dismal run for US Senate in 2014 has likely tarnished her star somewhat.  On the Republican side, I also expect the candidate to come from state government and there are plenty of people from which to choose although I believe the best candidate would be state attorney general Patrick Morrisey.  This state could go either way although one would have to give a slight advantage to the GOP at this point.

Taken altogether, the GOP is likely to pick up a net total of one Governor’s offices in 2016 in a worst case scenario as it stands now.

A quick update regarding the North Carolina race: Roy Cooper’s tenure as state AG has been largely trouble-free.  One comment notes that the state SBI came under fire and removed from AG’s control. The scandal at the SBI came about after a man convicted of murder was later found to be innocent.  It was at the insistence of ROY COOPER that an audit was performed and over 200 cases were identified where evidence was withheld or crime lab incompetence.  Leaving aside his sometimes leftist views which will be debated in the campaign, one cannot claim that the SBI scandal which was the result of a Cooper-ordered audit qualifies as a problem for Cooper.