Friday, April 12, 2013

The 2014 races of the 2016 candidates

There are seven, potential 2016 presidential candidates who are governors and face reelection battles in 2014 (Andrew Cuomo, John Kasich, Susana Martinez, Chris Christie, Brian Sandoval, Nikki Haley, and Scott Walker).

You can categorize them, thusly:

Heavy favorites: Andrew Cuomo, Chris Christie, Susana Martinez, and Brian Sandoval.
Slight favorites: John Kasich and Nikki Haley.
Genuine tossups: Scott Walker.

If any of them lose in '14, it will tarnish and possibly irreparably damage a 2016 run, so the stakes are high. Let's take a look at each of these races.

Cuomo is a lock (photo: Pat Arnow)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D)

Latest approval rating: 55%/27% for +28% (Quinnipiac March 2013) .

For as good as that rating is, it's been higher and there's a good chance that it will probably go higher, at some point in the future.

That 55% is actually his lowest number since a Siena poll in June 2011 -- that's two years ago! So what's driving Cuomo's numbers into pseudo-mortality? The standard explanation is that it's been his heavy-handed approach to gun control, post-Newton.

Prior to the gun control push, he was holding down an average 65% approval rating -- a solid ten points higher. More impressively, he was averaging a +35% approval rating with.... Republicans! Again, that's "average"; not a flukish one-off.

But in Q's most recent poll, his approval with Republicans had dipped to -11%, which is still pretty bloody good, and bloody easily good enough to win reelection in New York.

Speaking of NY, a quick non-Jay-Z tangent.

You can get the real measure of just how liberal New York is from 2012 New York exit polls measuring voter ideology and philosophy.

On abortion, 72% wanted it legal; only 21% wanted it illegal. On ObamaCare, 18% wanted it to be kept the way it is, and 40% actually wanted it expanded. As for income taxes, 82% wanted them increased for the rich.

Now here's the real measure of how deeply liberal the state is. By 57%-38%, voters say the "government isn't doing enough."

Nationally, that number is 43%/51%, a net difference of 27 percentage points, and even in swing states that Obama won (like Ohio), the number is 39%/56%, a net difference of 38 percentage points.

Now, of course, when you break things down and get specific, it turns out that most voters across the country actually are in favor of more government (they usually say otherwise in the abstract). But the mere fact that nearly 60% of New Yorkers are actually honest enough to say "the government isn't doing enough" is pretty remarkable.

Poll tracker: Via TPM, you can clearly see Cuomo's recent dip on this chart, but you can also clearly see he's not (and has never been) in any sort of approval danger.

Possible opponents:

As fate would so munificently have it, GOP chairman Ed Cox floated a list on April 1 (!) of possible GOP challengers to Cuomo.

a. Westchester County Executive, Rob Astorino, is often mentioned as the most likely sacrificial lamb, and Cox noted that he currently holds his seat in a Democratic county.

b. Harry Wilson, a hedge fund manager and former candidate who came up just short in his race for Comptroller (if he had won, it would have been the first statewide victory for a GOP candidate since 2002).

As the New York Observer noted, Wilson was a very strong candidate -- he helped Obama deal with the auto crisis, picked up widespread praise, and has cash galore from his hedge fund years.

Liz Benjamin notes that he's been somewhat politically active since then, and made an appearance at the Conservative Party's recent, political action conference.

Still, he's doubtful.

c. Duchess County Executive, Marcus Molinaro. He shouldn't be confused as a relative of Susan Molinari, who doesn't have the exact same last name, but totally sounds related.

Molinaro got started early in politics, became mayor of Tivoli, New York at 19 years-old, and has served int the Assembly.

On paper, he wouldn't be as strongly as either Astorino or Wilson.

d. Rep. Chris Gibson is a retired colonel (and totally looks it) and member of the U.S. Congress. He's a genuine military hero, having scored a Purple Heart and Four Bronze Stars, and is considered an expert on national security.

He was elected to the House in 2010 and reelected in 2012, and was one of only nine Republicans to vote against Paul Ryan's budget in 2011.

e. Chautauqua County Executive, Greg Edwards, is the final name on the list. He ran for lieutenant governor in 2010 with Carl Paladino, and lost but availed himself well. In fact, The New York Times ran a sympathetic piece on him in '10 and called him Paladino's "mop-up man" because he tried cleaning up Paladino's frequent gaffes.

State of the race:

Newsday recently wrote that Astorino, contrary to popular speculation, probably won't run, thanks to Cuomo's strength.

Astorino is considered a strong fundraiser, but Cuomo currently has an utterly daunting $20 million for the race, along with the potential to more than double that. Whatever his fundraising merits, Astorino can't do that.

But that doesn't mean Astorino won't or shouldn't run.

As GOP strategist Ron Bonjean recently told The NY Post, a 2014 bid could drive up name ID for a later bid. Of course, they could also damage themselves if they're blown out.

And that basic scenario holds true for all the potential candidates who will, most assuredly, lose to Cuomo.

Kasich has turned it around, but isn't totally around yet

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R)

Latest approval rating: 53%/32% for +21%  (QuinnipiacFebruary 2013).

Kasich has had a famous and dramatic turnaround. The Quinnipiac number was his highest ever, but rather than being a fluke, it seems to confirm a trend upwards.

His numbers with Republicans are strong, and he's rallied dramatically with independents, who now give him a 56%/30% approval rating and, by 14%, think he deserves reelection.

Even 25% of Democrats now approve of the job he's done.

But Kasich isn't totally out of the woods yet.

Only 46% say he deserves reelection, while 36% say he doesn't. On one hand, the fact he's at +10% is a good sign, but the fact he doesn't crack 50% is a bad one.

Then there's this.

In hypothetical matchups with four Democrats, he fails to crack 50% a single time, even though he wins solidly in each matchup. That means quite a few voters haven't decided, and it's always dangerous when an incumbent slips below 50% in a head-to-head matchup.

That being said, Kasich's trend is strong, as you can see from these approval ratings over time, as compiled by TPM's Poll Tracker.

Likely opponent.: Cuyahoga County Executive, Ed Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald is considered the front-runner, and hails from iconic Democratic county, Cuyahoga, in the Cleveland area.

But lest you think that sounds a bit "machine-y", he's actually got a pretty interesting background, and was actually an FBI agent in the 1990's. He's young (45 years-old), photogenic, and is connected throughout the state among people who matter, but is essentially a blank slate, overall, in the state. 80% of voters haven't even heard of him.

Politico reports that Fitzgerald has already hired Barack Obama's senior adviser to his 2012 Ohio campaign, Aaron Pickrell, as well as other top Dems, and in March, Fitzgerald became the first, potential Democratic candidate to form an exploratory committee (watch video here).

Rachel Weiner notes that the establishment appears ready to rally behind him, as the state party actually emailed news of his announcement.

Indeed, two of Fitzgerald's potentially strongest opponents -- Rep. Tim Ryan and former Rep. Betty Sutton -- decided to pass on runs last month, leaving Fitzgerald with a clear path to the nomination.

The only kink comes in the form of former AG Richard Cordray, who may run for governor if the Senate fails to confirm him as Director of the CFPB.

State of the race: Fitzgerald should be a strong candidate, but Kasich has a couple things working in his favor right now.

As noted earlier, his approval rating is now +50% and Ohio's economy is getting stronger. In fact, many credit Kasich's economy for Obama's win in the state.

There'll be talk of mutiny on Kasich's right over his decision to extend Medicaid (only 25% of Republicans approved of the move), but those voters will likely come home by election time.

Then there's this -- 2010 is a mid-term where turnout tends to fall, which favors Republicans.

In short, it's tough to bet against any governor who sports a +50% approval rating in a state where the economy is improving.

Haley is counting on her base to return

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R)

Latest Approval Rating: 41%/45% (PPP, March 2013) and 44%/39% (Winthrop University, Feb 2013).

Key numbers: When was the last time Nikki Haley hit 50% approval?


That's right. The Republican governor of a state that voted for Mitt Romney by double-digits hasn't even cracked 50% once.

In the Winthrop poll, for example, her approval rating with Republicans and independent-leaning Republicans is actually slightly worse (67%) than Lindsey Graham's (72%).

According to the PPP survey, 19% of those who call themselves "very conservative" disapprove of the job she's doing, and 25% of those calling themselves "conservative" disapprove of her job performance.

Tea party disillusion with Haley is also famous, but Winthrop actually notes a fascinating phenomenon -- tea party identification has dipped to 6% among all voters which makes some of their members' disapproval less damaging.

Haley has yet to find her stride in the state, which is recovering slowly from the economic downturn.

But it is recovering, and perhaps the most important factor in the upcoming race is that, by 46%-41%, South Carolinians think the state is on the right track again.

Poll tracker: Via TPM, here's Haley's approval over time.

Opponent: State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a 41 year-old former prosecutor. Democrats don't expect any primary challengers to Sheheen.

State of the race: Sheheen ran against Haley in 2010's general election and came up just short, 51%-47%.

He's expected to hammer Haley over the state's unemployment rate, a hacking scandal, and college tuition; whereas, Haley will likely accuse him of being a tax-and-spend lawyer, while defending her own record of job creation.

The State reports that Haley has already raised $2 million for the race, while Sheheen has $92K he can transfer from his state senate campaign account. That's a pretty big hole to start things out.

But Mark Sanford's reemergence in South Carolina could be a slight headache for Haley. Both Sheheen and the state's Democratic party chairman compared Haley with her former political mentor this week. We'll see if voters think it's terribly relevant.

But, as I wrote earlier, the most important dynamic in this race is the fact that South Carolinians now think the state is going in the right direction. That's HUGELY important for an incumbent -- even one as unpopular as Haley. Even more bullishly, Carolinians think the state is going in a better direction than the country.

Then there's this: Haley is struggling right now, but it's primarily due to conservative and Republican dissatisfaction. But if Sheheen is banking on conservative and GOP dissatisfaction to put him into the governor's mansion, that's a perilous gamble.

In the heat of a general election campaign, those folks are likely to come home for Haley.  

Christie's approval rating has hit 70% in seven straight polls

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R)

Latest approval rating: 70%/23% for +47% (Quinnipiac University, March 2013).

Christie's polled well his entire term, but post-Sandy, his approval rating has hit 70% seven times (and the times it failed to, it was 69% and 67%).

But as importantly, the last time he had a negative approval rating was February 2012, and it was -1%.

Thus, there's nothing to indicate Christie won't roll into the reelection months with numbers that are at least as good as he's averaged over his term.

But just to get to how supercalifragilisticexpialidocious his numbers are, check out the most recent Q poll where he gets a +8% favorable rating from Democrats, who also, by 1%, think he deserves reelection.

Poll tracker: Here's his approval rating over time, via TPM.

Likely opponent: State Sen. Barbara Buono, a 56 year-old veteran of the New Jersey legislature.

She served for eight years in the Assembly, where she became Democratic Conference Chair, and after being elected to the state senate, she became Majority Leader from 2010-2012.

But she's not Christie's probable opponent based on strength; in fact, two stronger candidates -- Steve Sweeney and Cory Booker -- decided to pass on runs, likely concluding that Christie was invincible.

State of the race:

Buono is liberal to the core, and has already started pointing out the disconnect between Christie's relatively conservative social views and Jersey's deep-blue values.

In fact, capitalizing on that gap seems to be her only (and very dim) chance on closing the overall gap.

She's trailing Christie, 60%-25%, in the most recent poll, and an embarrassing number of elected Democrats have already endorsed Christie, suggesting that no one really thinks Buono can win.

But here's what you should watch -- can Buono and outside Democratic groups bloody Christie a little? If so, he'd come into the second term without a full mandate and a possible, rough, few years ahead. Outside Dem groups will almost certainly look to rough Christie up.

Walker is the most vulnerable of the pack

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R)

Latest approval rating: 48%/49% (PPP February 2013).

Walker faces a big gender gap (Wisconsin generally has one of the widest gender gaps of all battlegrounds) with an approval rating of -13% among women and +10% among men.

He's also just shy of the 50% incumbent-threshold, but his sub-50% approval rating with PPP is slightly lower than average.

Until the PPP poll, Walker had hit 50% twelve consecutive times, stretching back to September 2012, but only by the slimmest of margins.

Walker's approval rating shows he's vulnerable, but it also suggests that he's just popular enough to squeak it out.

Poll tracker:  Via TPM, you can see his fortunes turned around in January 2012, and since last year's onset, has regularly maintained a slightly positive approval rating.

Possible opponents:

The dream matchup for junkies is Walker vs. former Senator, Russ Feingold.

In PPP's February survey, Walker leads five possible, Democratic opponents, but can't quite crack 50% against any of them.

But Walker loses a very close race against Feingold, 47%-49%, and because of name ID issues, that's the only realistic result of any matchup.

Feingold's favorable rating in the state is 53%/37%, which is a net 17 percentage points higher than Walker's approval rating in the same poll.

Having said that, PPP notes that Feingold might wait to run for his old Senate seat, particularly considering he leads the guy who beat him in 2010, Ron Johnson, by 10% in the survey.

State of the race:

Against anyone not named Russ Feingold, Walker would be the slight favorite, but Feingold would have a slight edge on Walker.

Nevertheless, it's not clear (at all) that Feingold has any interest taking him on. Winning his old Senate seat in 2016 is much more doable, and the Senate fits his temperament more than the governor's mansion.

The Capital Times also notes that he seems quite happy out of elective office and passed on both a recall challenge to Walker and, more tellingly, a chance to run for Senate last year when he would have surely won.

Martinez's disapproval rating hasn't even risen to 40% once

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez

Latest approval rating: 64%/23% for +41% (Colorado College, February 2013).

If that insanely high number sounds fluky, it's far from it. Martinez has scored +60% in six of her last nine polls, and her disapproval number hasn't hit 40% at a single moment since stepping into office.

She routinely rolls out extraordinarily strong ratings with Democrats -- a Journal poll last September found her number at 56%/24% among Dems.

Her poorest performance has consistently come from the Democratic polling firm, PPP, but even in its latest survey, Martinez landed a 44%/45% rating with Democrats -- a sizzling number for a Republican.

Poll tracker: Via TPM, here are ratings over time. Note that the red line never reaches 40%.

Likely opponent: Attorney General Gary King (D) is running. King has a doctorate in organic chemistry and a law degree from University of New Mexico (sounds like he finished high school, as well).

He served in the New Mexico legislature and was elected AG in 2006.

When King announced his gubernatorial bid in June 2012, it raised eyebrows. Not because he was running (after all, he's run and lost twice before), but because he announced so far in advance of the actual 2014 election.

The theory, of course, is that an early announcement could position himself as the front-runner, and as of this week, he's still the only candidate to announce. So maybe it helped.

Another, possible opponent is the 39 year-old auditor, Hector Balderas, although he's thought to be more interested in filling King's AG seat once it's up. That would give him a better perch from which to eventually run for governor (once Martinez is termed out).

Balderas ran for the U.S. Senate in 2012, but lost in the Democratic primary to Martin Heinrich, who went on to win the general election.

State of the race:

It's not looking good for anyone not named Susana Martinez. Not only is she one of the most popular governors in the state, she's also killing it, money-wise, and in 2012, led King by 12% in a head-to-head matchup conducted by Public Policy Polling. Balderas trailed by 13% in the race.

Meanwhile, a report this week showed Martinez with $1.5 million cash-on-hand and King with just $103K in his exploratory committee.

"Governor Sunny" has a boffo 60%/32% rating with Hispanics

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R)

Latest approval rating: 58%/28% for +30% (PPP, November 2012).

He scores tremendously well across the ideological spectrum. In PPP's November poll, he had a +6% approval rating among those calling themselves "somewhat liberal" and an 81%/8% rating among the "very conservative."

That's some seriously broad strength. In fact, his net approval rating with women (+31%) was slightly higher than with men (+28%).

When matched against a generic Democrat in a hypothetical reelection, Sandoval is up 55%/32%. Not only is that a 23% lead, it's also solidly above the 50% threshold incumbents generally need. He wins independents, 64%-21%, and even manages to score 22% of Democrats.

And here's the $ stat. Sandoval's approval rating with Hispanics is 60%/32%, which is nearly as high as with whites. When paired against a generic Democrat, Sandoval's numbers with Hispanics drop a bit, but he still wins the demo, 49%-41%, in a state where Mitt Romney only managed 24% of Hispanics.

Poll tracker: Via TPM's poll tracker, here's his job approval over time.

Likely opponent:

Two Democratic names are usually bandied about -- Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Clark County Commission Chairman, Steve Sisolak.

State of the race:

If Masto decides to run against Sandoval, she'll be facing one of the most popular governors in the country who also holds a huge fundraising advantage. Sandoval raised $653K last year for his upcoming reelection fight, while Masto pulled in just $67K.

A June 2012 PPP poll, pitting Masto against Sandoval, saw the Republican incumbent up, 51%-33%.

As for Sisolak, Jon Ralston notes that he could self-fund, "but it's hard to win the top statewide office as a local government official."

And in case they were wondering, Democrats won't be able to use Medicaid against Sandoval. He was the first Republican governor to support ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion, although he stressed he was against ObamaCare itself. And Sandoval has accumulated a moderate governing record.

In the end, it's hard to see anyone knocking Sandoval out as Jon Ralston wryly notes:

Luckily for Sandoval, there is no Hispanic, female, top law enforcement officeholder with a lot of free media on the foreclosure crisis who might want to be governor. That might prove problematic for him.

Overall: This is, by definition, a strong group of governors or else they wouldn't be mentioned as possible presidential contenders. Thus, six of seven are favorites, and all seven could easily win.

But how they win could be very important.

For example, can Martinez and Sandoval win Hispanics this time (they didn't in their first runs)? Can Buono and progressives rough up Christie a bit; thus, sending him to a second term without a ton of mojo to execute his agenda? Is the Kasich turnaround story for real, and if his popularity keeps moving up, could he be a legit presidential contender by virtue of his state?

All good questions for what will sometimes appear to be blowout races.