Governors Races Mean Nothing for 2016
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.
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