Four Democratic Governors are either term limited or announced their retirements in 2016: Jack Markell in Delaware, Jay “Let’s Mishandle Ferguson” Nixon in Missouri, Pete “Oops- Single Payer Health Care is Harder Than I Thought” Shumlin in Vermont, and Earl Ray Tomblin in West Virginia. Incumbent and eligible Democratic Governors are: Kate Brown in Oregon, Steve Bullock in Montana, Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire, and Jay Inslee in Washington.
In 2012, Jay Inslee won a surprisingly close race against Republican Rob McKenna, 51-48%. For a Democrat in a statewide office in Washington, that is too close for comfort. One recent poll gave Inslee a C rating which gives him some room to maneuver. Those maneuvers have been to propose universal pre-K in the state by increasing the state capital gains tax to fund it, and a pollution accountability program- basically a tax on Washington “polluters.” As evidence of this influence, his biggest fundraiser thus far was attended by Al Gore. No doubt,this appeals to the Starbucks sucking liberals of Seattle and its suburbs. To illustrate how environmental issues dominate Washington politics consider a state judge who ordered the state to consider carbon reduction suggestions from 8-year-old letter writers. Consider the fact that Inslee came under fire for diverting money in a transportation spending bill from such nice things as bike lanes and other “non-automobile alternatives” (feet?, really long zip lines?).
McKenna has ruled out another run and Seattle Port Commissioner Bill Bryant is the only Republican declared candidate, but there is still plenty of time. Bryant’s campaign website is long on generalities and accomplishments. He calls himself a conservationist, but then almost everyone in Washington can lay claim to that moniker. Washington gubernatorial elections are notoriously close affairs but usually with a Democrat coming out on top of late. We will hear the inevitable choruses of almost winning, but Inslee, although a “C” Governor may just win another election.
Montana and West Virginia are red states with Democratic Governors. In Montana, Steve Bullock remains fairly popular, but pundits on both side of the aisle see him as vulnerable and there are more Republicans than Democrats in the state, although the Democrats do better in presidential years. Still, there are three potential candidates for the GOP. Many in Montana believe Corey Stapleton was cheated by Zinke in 2014, although he finished a close second in the primary. If he enters the race, he would likely be the front runner. Denny Rehberg has also been mentioned and the same tactics used by Tester in 2012 with success will likely be used by Bullock also. Still, he won tough elections in tough years for the GOP (2006, 2008). However, the name that most scares the Democrats is state attorney general Tim Fox who maintains a high profile in the state. His seat is up for reelection in 2016 so it would be a calculated risk to vacate that office and run against Bullock.
Ray Tomblin is term-limited in West Virginia and the GOP sees a path to the office. Tomblin may seek a House seat out of the Third District. No big names have stepped forward for the GOP although there are viable candidates. For the Democrats, some would like to see Natalie Tennant, who lost a Senate race handily in 2014, run here. But having lost that race, her stock has gone down. West Virginia is increasingly drifting deeper and deeper into red status so any Democrat might have a real tough time in 2016.
In New Hampshire, all eyes are on Maggie Hassan who remains bogged down in a state budget battle with Republicans. The Dems would dearly love for to challenge for the Senate seat held by Ayotte, but state business is holding off any decision. If she decides to go that route, then there will be a good battle for Governor. On the GOP side, former Congressman Jeb Bradley has been mentioned along with a name with a pedigree in state politics- Chris Sununu. And don’t count out Nashua mayor Donnalea Lazeau. On the Democratic side, state representative Jackie Cilley is considering a run. Until Hassan makes a decision, this race is clearly in flux.
In Oregon, secretary of state Kate Brown took over when John Kitzhaber resigned amid a scandal involving contracts awarded to his fiancee’s green energy company. Oregon is a tough cookie to crack. Get outside of Portlandia and there is a chance. Unfortunately the bulk of the state’s population lives in that area and it votes heavily Democratic in statewide elections. In effect, this is a special election to fulfill the term Kitzhaber won in 2014. Two points stand out: first, Kitzhaber won in 2014, but with less than 50% of the vote. In a dismal year for Democrats, his victory was one bright spot. Second, Brown’s approval rating stands at a high 55% which more than almost guarantees an incumbent reelection.
In Vermont, Democrat Pete Shumlin was twice humiliated. First, he barely won reelection in 2014 in a very blue state. Second, his single-payer, universal health care initiative which he highly touted and which the Left was hailing as the way to go nationally, fell under its own financial weight. Taken together, he was clearly damaged political goods. But, we are talking the Vermont Socialist Republic here who brought you the likes of Leahy, Sanders and Dean. Should [mc_name name=’Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’W000800′ ] enter the race, he would be a likely shoo-in and there would be no shortage of Democrats willing to seek his House seat. As for the GOP, it is slim pickings and any effort would be extremely uphill.
Likewise in blue Delaware where Jack Markell is term-limited. He has all but blessed and endorsed the non-candidacy of [mc_name name=’Rep. John Carney (D-DE)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’C001083′ ] whom many suspected wanted this job all along but for Beau Biden standing in his way. With his death, Carney may now step in and there is an extremely low chance the GOP would capture his House seat. Like Oregon, the bulk of Delaware’s population is situated in the north and heavily Democratic since that part of the state is basically a distant suburb of Philadelphia. If the GOP were smart, they’d take a pass on the Governor’s race and make a decent effort in an open House race.
That leaves Missouri where Democrat Jay Nixon is term-limited. Chris Koster, the state attorney general, is the only declared candidate to try to keep Democrats in control here. But, unlike Vermont or Delaware (or Oregon and Washington), Missouri’s population is more spread out so that Democratic strongholds like St. Louis and Kansas City do not necessarily dominate results. The GOP sees a real opportunity here with seven declared candidates. Polling is hard to come by, but former state house speaker Catherine Hanaway holds a slight lead over John Brunner, a 2012 Senate candidate. Against Koster, the polling jury is out for a Koster-Hanaway match up. As for Brunner, he is a Tea Party favorite who was not supported in his Senate bid as they instead opted to support Todd Aiken and we all know how that turned out. Still, Brunner is having trouble gaining traction against Hanaway, but its still early. Hopefully, the GOP will not eat itself in the primary, a strong candidate will emerge and they can pick up another Governor’s office in 2016.