This is the first of a monthly series looking at the 2016 gubernatorial races. The three 2015 races will be analyzed as Election day nears. There are 12 races in 2016 where there are currently eight Democratic incumbents and four Republican incumbents. Hence, there is a chance that the GOP can add to their already commanding advantage at this level of government. First, let’s look at the Republican races. In North Dakota, Jack Darymple is not term-limited although he has not announced his intentions to seek reelection. Although they would hate to likely lose a House seat, most talk out of the Democratic Party is that [mc_name name=’Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’H001069′ ] would be their most formidable candidate in a Governor’s race.
Another race that highly favors the GOP is Gary Herbert’s reelection in deeply red Utah. Unlike North Dakota, there is no real viable Democratic candidate other than former Congressman Jim Matheson. Herbert might get a primary challenge- his greatest chance of being unseated- from Overstock.com CEO Jonathan Johnson, but there is scant evidence that will happen.
The two potentially troublesome elections will involve Mike Pence in Indiana and Pat McCrory in North Carolina. For Pence, it all involves his mishandling of that state’s version of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Leftist-led backlash portraying him and the state as anti-gay. Not endearing Pence to the conservative base, he and the legislature relented and watered down the original law essentially elevating homosexuals to suspect class scrutiny. Thus, Pence would be a target for a primary challenge. But the best known potential challenger is ex-Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle. If one remembers, Angie’s List threatened to relocate out of Indiana if the RFRA became law as originally enacted. How Oesterle falls on the issue remains to be seen. But, the Democrats are smelling blood as both ex-(state) House Speaker John Gregg and Education Superintendent Glenda Ritz have entered the Democratic primary.
Pence and Ritz have had a rocky relationship and the legislature passed a law where the state Board of Education would have to elect a Chairman rather than have the State Superintendent automatically assume that post. Perhaps that is why Ritz has decided on a run now for Governor. The problem for Ritz is that Gregg has picked up the support of organized labor in Indiana and Ritz was purportedly not only rebuffed by union officials, but endured a lecture because her husband runs a non-union construction business. Gregg, on the other hand, has a very long history of opposing gay marriage which will likely be a contentious issue in the 2016 campaign. Throwing some confusion into the race on the Democratic side is state senator Karen Tallian who is perceived as a one-issue candidate: marijuana legalization. The Human Rights Campaign (pro-gay) and EMILY’s List (pro-choice) are keeping an eye on this race but waiting at this point. If Tallian can espouse a broader appeal, she may get their endorsement and money.
The latest poll from June shows that Pence is trailing both Ritz and Gregg by a single point which is not that bad all things considered. However, 54% said that Indiana needs a new Governor in 2016. Left unsaid is whether that Governor should be Republican or Democratic. Since Ritz announced, she has run into some trouble. First, Gregg actually raised more money than Pence in the first six months of 2015, but not by much and Pence has a healthy lead in cash-on-hand. Ritz entered the race rather late, thus her totals were down. But under Indiana law, candidates for statewide office are prohibited from raising funds during the legislative session. Ritz failed to abide by this law by $8,000. She faces a civil fine of $16,000. However, it has since been revealed that she raised $83,000 during the 2013 session. If fined, her campaign would actually start at a negative cash flow. She blames the most recent incident as a clerical error. Whether it is or not, it reveals a certain level of amateur campaigning on her part. The kicker is if she had waited a couple of weeks to enter the race, it all would be legal. Expect Gregg to hammer at this in the primary. As for Pence, he still is bending over backwards (no pun intended) to the LGBT community recently penning a welcome letter to a Gay Pride convention in Indianapolis.
To hear the Left speak, under Pat McCrory in North Carolina the state has become the equivalent of a Republican Taliban or ISIS going after women’s reproductive health and minority voting rights among other things and some “grassroots” organizations like Support the Dream and LetOurPoorPeopleLive along with the NAACP have been coming after McCrory and the Republican legislature with all their civil lawsuit and demonstration guns blazing. The Left celebrates these weekly protests as if they are shutting down state government when anything is further from the truth. To some, requiring a 72-hour waiting period for abortion is wrong. For others, requiring photo ID is suppression of the minority vote. One group accuses McCrory of killing 455-1145 North Carolina residents by refusing to expand Medicaid.
For the Democrats, state attorney general Roy Cooper and former state representative Ken Spaulding are vying to be the candidate to take on McCrory. In 2012, McCrory won by a rather comfortable margin over Democrat Walter Dalton, 54.6-43.2%. In 2016, things may get a little closer, but as I research this article one things strikes me: none of McCrory’s detractors are attacking North Carolina’s economic record. My guess regarding the ultimate outcome in 2016, no matter who the Democratic challenger is, will be twofold. First, although there will be fireworks over social issues, voters will vote economic issues and comparatively speaking North Carolina is not doing bad in a lot of areas. Second, the protests and lawsuits will wear thin. They have not achieved much to speak of other than what appears to be a weekly get-together of Leftist rabble-rousers. Chant, chant…rah! Rah! They are a vocal minority, but little else, and some do not even reside in North Carolina.
Since 2013, the Democrats have been eyeing this race. Some secretly hope and believe that former Senator Kay Hagan could still enter this race, but we have scant evidence of that. Instead, it will likely be Roy Cooper. There is a long way to go before the dust settles and polls are all over the place. But considering the amount of concerted pressure from Leftist groups and some minimal national attention, no poll puts Cooper more than three points ahead of McCrory at this juncture. If that is the best he can do- even from Left-leaning pollsters like PPP- then Cooper has his work cut out for him.
Tomorrow I will catch up on the races that include Democratic incumbents. After that, a monthly recap of events in all states will begin.