Painting the Midwest Red: A Sea Change is Coming in this Year’s Governors’ Races

The big news and focus in right-of-center and Republican circles this time of year is always CPAC. For many students and young people, it is their first exposure to the wide-ranging and yes, diverse people and organizations that make up the conservative movement, and it is very important. But it’s also not the only important event that happens this time.

As it happens, I spent three days this month at the Winter session of the Republican Governors Association. This is where sitting governors and candidates for the 2010 races can get together and plan for the coming year. It may not have the grand quality of a packed ballroom, but it is a very exciting thing to be part of, and I have the honor of chairing the Executive Roundtable meetings.

My main takeaway is that we have recruited superb candidates this cycle and I do believe we will enjoy some major victories this year, particularly across the middle of the country. It is not my intent here to comment on all races, but I would like to focus on the Midwest, plus Pennsylvania and Colorado.

For example, I believe Republicans will hold big states like Florida with Bill McCollum. I think we will also hold on to California, likely with Meg Whitman. California has a long history of Republican leadership, of course including Ronald Reagan. And in the Midwest I think we are in very good position to win some back: Right now we are on track to take over governorships in Kansas with Sam Brownback and Oklahoma with Mary Fallin.

But the big news, in my view, is that we will elect Republican governors in six large states that will be pivotal both to the 2011 re-districting and to winning these states in the 2012 Presidential election. These states are Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Colorado and Iowa.

The reasons Republicans will win are due partly to public resentment of the Obama Administration’s lurch to the left, highlighted by big government, mounting deficits, and spiraling debt burdens with increasing interest. However, the cause of victories will be mostly due to the quality of candidates. Having spent parts of four decades in and out of politics, I am more convinced than ever that candidate quality really matters, and boy are we loaded. I predict victory in all six of the following:

  • Ohio: John Kasich is a proven deficit hawk and a charismatic leader. Ohio is always tough, but John (a fellow Czech-American) will prevail. He will also be helped by a strong and winning Senate candidate, Rob Portman.
  • Wisconsin: I have written before about my enthusiasm for Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker. He has reduced spending, kept a balanced budget, and at age 40 still won re-election in 2008 by a large margin in a very blue county. He is a proven leader who will control spending, and he’ll get to do so at the statewide level next.
  • Pennsylvania: Tom Corbett has been an enormously effective as Attorney General, and in his last election received more votes than any Republican in Pennsylvania history. He too will be helped by a winning Senate candidate, Pat Toomey.
  • Iowa: Terry Branstad is a proven leader as a former Iowa Governor, and it is fortunate he has decided to run again. His great capacity combined with current Gov. Chet Culver’s unpopularity gives me great confidence in an Iowa victory.
  • Colorado: Former Sheriff and Congressman Scott McInnis is the real deal, especially when it comes to creating jobs and controlling spending. Here is a guy who slept in his office during his early time in Congress and who has an unmatched worth ethic, along with a contagious optimism. He will win and also be aided by winning Senate candidate, Jane Norton.
  • Michigan: We have a contested primary in Michigan but have truly outstanding candidates battling for the nomination. Whoever emerges as the winner of the primary will win the general election in this most battered and mismanaged of states.

So there you have it – six out of six, and well positioned to create jobs, control spending, and help win these states for the 2012 Presidential candidate. Too optimistic or euphoric? Nope – good candidates really do matter, and we have the best.

P.S. Lastly, I want to say that Gov. Haley Barbour, the RGA’s chairman, and Nick Ayers, the executive director, continue to inspire. They are providing excellent leadership and Republicans will have them and their hard work to thank for the victories ahead. Meanwhile, this was the first time we had newly-elected Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. Both led panels at this year’s session and both showed why they are effective leaders. I don’t think the governor’s office is the last stop for either of them.

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