Agreeing not to matter in '14?

Photographer: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Governors Races Mean Nothing for 2016

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
Read More.
a | A

As we watch the elections returns next Tuesday night, the most volatile results may come from governor's races, with perhaps a dozen or more seats changing party hands. That will then set off one of the myths in American politics: that control of the state house affects the presidential race.

Who wins the governorship matters a lot to citizens of Florida or Wisconsin and elsewhere, affecting important issues such as taxes and Medicaid expansion. The affect on the 2016 presidential race, however, will be minimal. A case in point: In 2012, five of the most competitive battleground states were Ohio, Florida, Virgina, Wisconsin and Iowa. All had Republican governors; all five voted for Barack Obama.

Years ago, governors could make a difference, delivering delegations for a nominee and helping in the general election. In 1980, Ronald Reagan strategist Stu Spencer liked to chuckle that every time the Republicans lost a point or two in Texas's Rio Grande Valley, with its heavy Hispanic population, Bill Clements -- the state's first Republican governor since Reconstruction -- would appoint a Latino judge and it'd bounce back. That was yesterday. 

An incumbent governor can still help with fund-raising, and perhaps advice. But presidential general election campaigns set up their own organizations in most major states.

That said, there a bunch of fascinating and important gubernatorial contests this time around -- here are a half dozen with national implications:

1. Wisconsin. Republican Scott Walker could be a top tier 2016 presidential contender -- if he wins re-election. Currently, he's locked in a close contest with Democrat Mary Burke.

2. Florida. The candidates are mediocre -- incumbent Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Charlie Crist, a former governor when he was a Republican -- yet it's the fourth-largest state. Moreover, memories remain of the 2000 presidential race when Al Gore and George W. Bush basically tied in Florida; Republican control of the state governmental machinery gave the victory and the presidency to Bush.

3. Colorado. Democrat John Hickenlooper has been celebrated as a model for the party, progressive on social issues, moderate on economic and energy matters and squeaky clean -- a potential running mate in 2016. He too, however, is locked in a tight race against Republican Bob Beauprez.

4. Kansas. Republican Governor Sam Brownback has enacted a very conservative agenda on taxes, spending and social issues, and driven moderate Republicans out of the party. If he loses to Paul Davis in this deeply red state, it'll send a warning about overreach.

5. Ohio. Governor John Kasich hasn't been prominently mentioned as a leading Republican presidential aspirant. Yet if, as expected, he wins a huge re-election -- 20 points or more -- in this battleground state, look for the Great Mentioner to start mentioning him.

6. Nevada. OK, there's no governor's race to speak of; Republican Brian Sandoval cruises to re-election. But the race for lieutenant governor -- pitting Republican Mark Hutchison against Democrat Lucy Flores -- is attracting high-profile national figures and big money. Why? Harry Reid. If the 74-year-old Senate majority leader tries for another term in 2016, the popular governor would be a formidable foe. However, if Flores were to win on Tuesday -- she's a slight underdog -- there would be party pressure on Sandoval not to turn state government over to a Democrat. Reid is pulling out all stops to push Flores over the top.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net