2016 Gubernatorial Races- Mays News in Review

Alaska- True, there is no gubernatorial race in Alaska this year, but there were rumors circulating in the state that former Democratic Senator Mark Begich was considering a run in 2018.  In order to do so, current “independent” Governor Bill Walker- who won with massive support from Alaska Democrats- would have to step aside.  But economics may dictate Walker’s fate (and decision) given some recent comments by him.  Alaska faces a serious problem in the near future.  Much of its finances are based on the energy sector, especially oil.  With declining prices on the world market and oil fields starting to run dry, Alaska faces both spending cuts and possible tax hikes- neither of which are a recipe for getting reelected.

Indiana-  Former Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle briefly considered running against Republican incumbent Governor Mike Pence, but decided against it.  Instead, he has a super PAC called Free Enterprise which commissioned a poll through Bellweather Research showing Pence with only a 40-36 edge over Democratic challenger John Gregg.  That does not exactly square with a previous poll by Public Opinion Strategies showing Pence with a 49-45 lead.  The difference is in the number of undecided voters between the polls.  Considering that nothing of consequence has happened on the Indiana legislative or gubernatorial front to swing people into the undecided category, at this point we have to consider Oesterle’s poll wishful thinking.

Speaking of Indiana, some polls show Pence with 94% name recognition (you should know your Governor) and a 44-41 approval rating.  Conversely, his opponent has 54% name recognition despite this being his second run for Governor, and a 20-8 approval rating.  This shows that there is potential upside for Gregg.  As for Pence, the 44% approval rating skirts the boundaries of a rating that almost guarantees reelection.

New Hampshire-  With the Democratic incumbent Governor retiring to enter the Senate race in New Hampshire, Republicans believe they have a shot here even though they have not won this office since 2002.  New Hampshire, like Vermont, elects their Governor every two years.  Both parties face contested primaries in September- another quirk (late primaries)- but the RGA has already booked more than $3 million of airtime in the final six weeks before Election Day.

North Carolina- Two new polls out of the Tar Heel State show incumbent Republican Pat McCrory trailing Democrat Roy Cooper.  National Research, conducting a poll for Civitas- a conservative outlet- finds him trailing by a whopping 10 points.  A new firm- RABA- finds Cooper up 41-36.  This brings to five the number of polls since McCrory signed HB-2 into law.  PPP, a Democratic pollster, found Cooper with only a 1 point lead while two others- SurveyUSA and Elon University- found McCrory up by four and six points respectively.  No matter how one looks at and interprets these polls, North Carolina may be in for tense, close moments come Election Day.

A follow up poll by National Research now finds McCrory up by 5 points indicating a ten point swing.  This further indicates one of two things- either National Research is a really bad pollster, or McCrory is weathering the “storm” over HB-2.  It may all be in the messaging.  An older poll found that a majority of North Carolinians agreed with the basic premise of the law, but a majority also worried about the possible economic impact on the state.

Utah- A primary election for Governor will be held on June 28th and it appears the highly popular GOP incumbent Gary Herbert will defeat his wealthy Republican opponent- Jonathan Johnson, the head of Overstock.com.  A recent poll showed that Herbert was crushing Johnson 74-19.  However, independents can register as Republicans on primary day.  When independents were factored in, Herbert’s lead wasn’t much different, 75-25.  Thus it appears that Johnson’s reliance on independents will not lead anywhere.

Vermont-  With the impending retirement of Democratic incumbent Bill Shumlin, Vermont represents an opportunity for the GOP to pick up a Governor’s office in a very blue state.  Lt. Governor Phil Scott likely has the best chance, but must first get through a contested August primary against Bruce Lisman.  Scott recently put distance between himself and Donald Trump asserting that he would never vote for Trump, but neither would he vote for Clinton.  Two points for Scott!

Virginia- Like Alaska, there is no gubernatorial election in Virginia this year (next year, along with New Jersey), but there was some news.  Ken Cuccinelli, who barely lost to Clinton butt-kisser Terry McAuliffe in 2013, announced he would not run in 2017.  Instead, Corey Stewart, chair of the Prince William County Board of Directors, who happens to be Donald Trump’s Virginia campaign chair, announced that he would likely run and that he will make an announcement in October at the height of the presidential campaign.  As if that is not strange enough, Stewart accused Cuccinelli- a principled conservative- with being part of the GOP establishment since he did not fall in line behind Herr Donald.

Two other Republicans made it known that they are also in for 2017- Congressman Rob Wittman and former RNC chair Ed Gillespie.  As one remembers, Gillespie made his 2014 Senate bid a lot closer than most expected it to be with a late surge.  Given that fact and Cuccinelli’s decision not to enter the race, Gillespie would have to be the front runner entering the 2017 race for the GOP.

It should be noted that Stewart, like his boss Trump, has an inflated ego.  Lest anyone forget, he lost out on the 2013 Lt. Governor nomination to some unknown guy named E.W. Jackson.  For the Democrats, not many imposing names are stepping forward.  Thus far, it looks like only Lt. Governor Ralph Northam.  State attorney general Mark Herring has already let it be known that he will seek reelection to his current office.

The one saving grace for people like Stewart is that the GOP opts for a nominating convention rather than a primary.  Sometimes, due to the unpredictability of the convention process, the more electable candidate is sacrificed.

Washington- And finally, the GOP wants to unseat incumbent Democrat Jay Inslee this year, but likely Republican opponent Bill Bryant is not proving to be a fundraising dynamo.  However, some of Inslee’s advantage is due to a $300,000 transfer from the state Democratic Party’s account to the Inslee campaign.  Hence, although Bryant is not doing that great, Inslee isn’t much better.  Since we are talking about the Socialist State of Seattle, er…Washington, this is all academic.  One poll puts Inslee up 48-36 while Bill Bryant has his own poll showing him down by seven.  The RGA has not invested any money in this race yet, so they likely feel Bryant’s chances are slim.