The State Houses – What’s At Stake in 2010

Thirty-nine states will be electing a governor during the 2009-2010 election cycle. Of these, eighteen races will not include an incumbent and four incumbents who will be running were not elected to their current position. The recession and huge budget deficits threaten to undercut the power of incumbency for governors running for reelection.

The Current Line-Up


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As Arizona immigrant-rights activists hope to mobilize the Latino population into a powerful voting bloc capable of realigning the state’s traditional GOP political structure, Florida Republicans seem eager to embrace the controversial immigration law.

Someone within the Republican consultant circle should school these fools and remind them what happened to the California Republican Party when they pursued their immigrant bashing back in 1994. The short-term political gains accrued to Pete Wilson’s reelection doomed the state GOP to a fate of rump-party status.

While Arizona’s more homogeneous demographics make a lurch toward the Democrats like that which occurred in California a decade ago, Florida’s multicultural tapestry could make it far more likely to push the Sunshine State into the Democratic column. The loss of Florida could doom GOP presidential prospects for a generation.

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Republican Nikki Haley is bashing the pro-business SC Chamber of Commerce, a reliably rock-ribbed Republican interest group in most 21st century political campaigns. You know something different is going on in South Carolina that’s beyond the new face and different gender.

The Chamber – who took the unusual step of endorsing Democrat Vincent Sheheen and Republican Gresham Barrett during the gubernatorial primaries – has decided to stick with Sheheen in the general election contest causing the Haley campaign to denounce the group as a fan of bailouts and corporate welfare. This kind of populist, anti-business rhetoric is typically found in Democratic primaries coming from the left. This time it’s coming from the libertarian right.

South Carolina’s unemployment rate has consistently ranked among the worst in the nation throughout the recession, stirring up an unpredictable cauldron which has turned the normal state of Palmetto politics on it’s head.

Not long ago Haley was an obscure state legislator struggling to gain traction against better-known and better-financed candidates. Her meteoric rise into the national spotlight has brought her to the cover of the current dead tree issue of a slowly dying Newsweek who proclaims her as “The New Face of the New South.”


She’s a fresh face that Republican strategists hopes helps redefines the GOP in a ethnically diverse America. Read More→

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When Terry Branstad rejected defeated GOP guber wannabe Bob Vander Plaats’ request to be included on his ticket this fall it raised the specter the Tea Party fave may pull a Lieberman and run an independent campaign for governor.  Such a move would virtually guarantee the reelection of embattled Democrat Chet Culver, according to some analysts.

It also could scramble the 2012 presidential race before it really begins. Mike Huckabee – who has recently sent signals he may be reconsidering his decision to not run again – would have the most at stake. But others GOP hopefuls, who have lined up behind nominee Terry Branstad could find themselves alienated by the most ardent Tea Party activists if they don’t tread lightly as Vander Plaats considers his next move.

From the Iowa Independent:

News broke Thursday that a meeting had occurred between Vander Plaats and GOP gubernatorial nominee Terry Branstad. At that meeting, Vander Plaats apparently asked for a spot on the ticket, an idea that was rejected. That rejection opened the door for a potential third-party run for governor this fall.

Several sources with knowledge of the situation confirmed to The Iowa Independent this week that Vander Plaats is seriously considering a run, with the chances of him entering the race at about 50/50. Since the rumors became public, Vander Plaats had repeatedly refused comment to the media, but the Cedar Rapids Gazette’s James Lynch reports he did send a text message to one of his advisers stating his immediate priorities as, “to unite the party, defeat Chet Culver and ensure leadership 4 IA.”

Vander Plaats, who ran as the Mike Huckabee/Chuck Norris-backed social conservative in the GOP primary and promised to ban gay marriage on Day 1 in office (even though such a move by the governor would be unconstitutional) surprised some national observers by his ability to make the race against the former governor as close as he did. Apparently, that impressive vote total is what is propelling him to continue his Tea Party-fueled insurgency.

It may look short-sighted today, but to Tea Party activists aiming to control the critical Iowa GOP in the 2012 nominating contest, having Culver in the Governor’s Mansion might strengthen their insurgents effort to keep the issues they care about on the front burner. If Branstad is in office exerting his influence over the nominating caucuses, it becomes more difficult for Tea Party activists to make their mark on the nominating process.

“In many ways, the Vander Plaats folks would prefer a Culver victory over one for Branstad,” Gillette said. “They do not like Culver, but Branstad’s victory in November would limit options for them in years to come – like who gets to be party chair, who controls party resources and who is in charge of the messaging carried and heard by conservatives. The heart of the battle in Iowa is not about winning an office, but for who controls the Republican/conservative/Tea Party cause. Vander Plaats is not ready to go into that good night and Branstad puts a significant dent into the aspirations of many who support Vander Plaats.”

Gillette predicted before the primary that if Vander Plaats got 40 percent of the vote — which he did — that it would motivate him to continue his campaign as an independent. While he may doom the party’s nominee, Gillette says Vander Plaats is really in a no-lose situation.

“If Vander Plaats walks away, he is a three time loser,” he said. “If runs as an independent candidate and Branstad wins, Vander Plaats gets to call himself a martyr for the cause. If he runs and Culver wins, Vander Plaats supporters will say that the wrong guy won in June and will continue to inveigle their way into the party apparatus.”

Dan Balz writes in today’s WaPo about the unprecedented volatility of the Republican primary electorate in California. It’s been a roller-coaster ride for MegaBucks Whitman and her Silicon Valley sidekick Steve Poizner.

Whitman’s lead was seen as insurmountable. Until it wasn’t.

After pulling within single digits in some polls, Poizner saw his momentum stall, only to watch Whitman gallop off with another huge lead, if the most recent polls are to be believe

The primary battle veered far off course, as far as the Whitman camp was concerned. Poizner, who had sat quietly on the sidelines as MegaBucks poured tens of millions into television advertising to blanket the state, successfully undermining her fragile support among conservatives with ads about immigration and her Wall Street ties.

He stirred the potent mixture bubbling in the populist Teapot and got results. Read More→

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~ graphic by Jacob Villaneuva, Texas Tribune

A new poll commissioned by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune shows Governor Rick Perry (R) leading his Democratic challenger former Houston Mayor Bill White, 44%-35%.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem Democrats are going to make a dent in the GOP’s dominance in the Lone Star State. The poll shows GOP nominees leading in every statewide contest on the November ballot.

But the Tribune does see a potential problem for Perry, already the longest serving Texas governor in history as he pursues re-election.

Those numbers are identical to the results of a “fantasy race” between White and Perry in the February UT/TT poll, which was taken before Democratic and Republican primary voters selected the two men as their nominees. This time, 15 percent said they don’t know yet who they’ll vote for, and 7 percent said they’d prefer “someone else.” That last finding could be consequential: Libertarians will choose their candidate for governor at a state convention next month, and that candidate or a write-in or some combination of the two could give those “someone else” voters a place to go.

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In the wild, when a species dwindles in population and begins to lose its genetic diversity it increases it’s risk of extinction. A similar phenomenon happens in politics when a political party isolates itself by imposing rigid ideological conformity.

Political parties by their very nature are vibrant, dynamic communities that must develop and change as their membership evolves. A failure to adapt to the challenges of a changing world can lead to obscurity and eventual extinction. Just ask the Whigs.

Could this be happening with the Republican Party? Despite what looks like a renaissance after two straight wave elections swept them from power, much of the party’s energy comes from this newly-branded Tea Party movement. But the anger within this movement is aimed at profligate politicians from BOTH parties. The GOP may successfully ride this movement to remarkable wins this November. It also could be misreading this momentum as a validation of the righteousness of the Right.

Down in Georgia, where Republican ascendancy reached its historic peak in the past decade by winning the governorship and control of the state legislature, the good ol’ boys down their have imposed their iron will on who can and cannot be part of their club. Long ago, the Democrats and Republicans established some of the country’s strictest requirements for third party candidates to get onto the Georgia ballot. It’s a bipartisan effort to keep others off the ballot, but the Republicans go one step further than their Democratic counterparts by demanding their candidates sign a loyalty oath.

When wealthy businessman Ray Boyd jumped into the GOP gubernatorial contest, he threatened to be a real player in the primary by backing up his bid with $2 million of his own money. But when he refused to sign the loyalty oath, the GOP establishment tossed him from the party (even though he offered to sign a modified pledge).

Could this type of “purity test” lead to GOP’s demise? Some think it’s possible.

symbolically, it represents another example of the party unnecessarily shrinking its base. By excluding those who don’t measure up, it purifies itself. That produces nominees likely to appeal only to voters for whom the party’s brand of purity is a virtue. And in most places – look north and west – those folks are a minority.

Sure, keeping Boyd out of the party because he won’t sign a loyalty oath might not mean much in the scheme of things.

But – given the state of play – it’s probably not a step in the right direction.

Since Politico left two of the three Gulf Coast 2010 gubernatorial contests off their list of how the oil spill was affecting local politics, I thought a look at how guber wannabes in Alabama and Florida.

In Alabama, where Mobile had been positioning itself to be the “energy hub” of the eastern Gulf of Mexico, there’s a strong loyalty to the oil and gas industry. It’s already an important economic engine that was only going to get more powerful with the Obama Administration’s recent decision to expand offshore drilling into the region.

Therefore, supporting “Drill, Baby, Drill” was a political no-brainer in the state, particularly for Republicans. However, in recent days, as the ooze has crept toward the coastal beaches, that no-brainer has gradually given way to second thoughts.

The Democratic front-runner, Rep. Artur Davis, a man who has made a habit recently of proving how he’s a different type of Democrat by voting against the national party on key issues like health care reform and shunned the support of civil rights groups and had supported offshore drilling as part of his economic plan for the state, filed legislation in Congress to raise the liability limits BP might face from this ever-expanding catastrophe.

On the Republican side, GOP front-runner Bradley Byrne, a long-time proponent of offshore drilling is having serious second thoughts:

“I’ve always been a proponent of drilling, but I’ve got to be honest, I’m having second thoughts. I really like the idea of America taking advantage of all our energy resources to be energy independent, but you look at this incident and wonder, where were the contingency plans?”

“It’s already had a profound effect on the economy down there,” Byrne said. “The recreational and commercial fishing has been really negatively affected. Anybody that manages or owns a condominium or hotel will tell you they are being negatively affected, and at the beginning of their season.

“This is the part of the year they want to be full-up for June and starting to fill up for July and August, and it’s not happening. People with businesses that feed off that — restaurants, storeowners — it’s having a major effect on everyone there.”

Clearly, what’s driving politics is the green. Not Green as in the environment, but Green as in the almighty dollar.

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Politico analyzes five 2010 races potentially altered by the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The list includes the top tier MegaState races the national media has been fixated on throughout the current cycle (California Governor & Senate, Florida Senate, Texas Governor) and one additional race in a state most directly and immediately impacted and by the oil slick (Louisiana Senate).

Notably absent are two gubernatorial races whose winners will likely be dealing with the effects of the growing environmental disaster throughout their terms in office – the Alabama and Florida contests. I’d argue that the Gulf Coast Governors are going to be confronted with the long-term consequences, the clean up’s logistics and costs, the task of  rebuilding battered local industries far more than their Senators up in DC. These governors are going to be on the frontline of cleaning up the environmental mess and how to pay for it.


In the Sunshine State, the politics of offshore drilling have been fluid in recent years. After decades of steadfast public opposition to drilling near the coast because the state’s economy was built on it’s pristine beaches. Tourism ruled. Recently, however, soaring prices at the pump, strained state budgets and a desire for no new taxes helped put a big dent in this public opposition.

It was early summer 2008 when a former maverick who desired to be president sensed a political opportunity. Americans  were seething over rapidly rising gasoline prices.  This maverick, who was called McCain rode in from the West and pulled an old switcheroo (it would be denounced as a flip-flop if he had been a Democrat) and reversed his long-standing opposition to lifting a decades-old bipartisan ban on new offshore drilling.

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The Sleeping Giant No More

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The US Census recently released a report on voter turnout in the 2008 presidential election. The most important finding with electoral ramifications for years to come is the enormous surge among Hispanic voters. Nearly 2.2 million more Hispanic voters showed up at the polls in 2008 over 2004, an increase of over 28%. Josh Goodman has an interesting writeup on the Latino voting bloc’s increasing importance, including a chart showing the Hispanic percentage by state.

Most political observers know by now that the Latino vote (which supported President Obama by a 2-1 margin) was critical to his electoral college success, helping the Democrats add Nevada, Florida and Colorado to their electoral college column. Historically, Latinos have been an underperforming population on election day, consistently voting at rates below the overall average. Perhaps the failure of comprehensive immigration reform or the 2006 May Day rallies sparked by the anti-Hispanic rhetoric coming from some (mostly Republican) political leaders awakened the sleeping giant of American politics.

If so, it’s bad news for Republicans.

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