Friday, May 3, 2013

The big caveat to GOP success in battleground states

Walker and other GOP governors have been successful in off-years, but downright woeful in presidential years (photo: WisPolitics)

Earlier this week, Jeb Bush correctly wrote that, for all their national woes, Republicans have had a lot of success in the states, and for years, the GOP has pointed to guys like Scott Walker and Brian Sandoval as proof that Republicans can win in battleground states that lean blue.

Well, they can, but only in off-years when lower turnout favors Republicans.

Look at the three, most recent governors in each battleground state (Nevada, Colorado, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire), and this is the rough verdict for Republicans.

Only two Republicans have won gubernatorial elections in battleground states during a presidential election year -- Pat McCrory in North Carolina (2012) and Matt Blunt in Missouri (2004).

During that time, Democrats have won nine gubernatorial elections in battleground states during a presidential year (Six different Democrats have won. What's remarkable is that they've done it in North Carolina, Missouri, and New Hampshire. The first two are considered lean-red states).

Another big stat?

Both Republicans to win in presidential election years couldn't get reelected (three Democrats were able to pull that feat off).

All the surprising GOP successes in gubernatorial elections have come in off-years. Snyder in Michigan, Walker in Wisconsin, Scott in Florida, Sandoval in Nevada, Kasich in Ohio, McDonnell in Virginia.

The fact is that Republicans are extraordinarily lucky that most gubernatorial elections in battlegrounds come in midterms.

Of the battlegrounds, only Missouri, North Carolina, and, usually, New Hampshire, select their governors in presidential election years.

Two of those states lean red, anyway, yet Democrats have won more gubernatorial elections in all of those states over the past few decades than Republicans.

Here are some more examples of GOP good fortune.

Two of Wisconsin's last three governors have been Republican, yet the state hasn't voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984. What's the secret sauce? Wisconsin's gubernatorial elections are in off-years.

Two of Michigan's last three governors have been Republican, yet the state has't voted for a GOP presidential candidate since 1984. Once again, the GOP enjoys the good fortune of electing governors in off years.

For the ultimate example of just how important the Off Year vs. Presidential Year dynamic is, just compare North Carolina and Michigan.

The former state is generally considered "lean solidly red", while the latter is "lean solidly blue." Yet two of North Carolina's last three governors have been Democrats, while two of Michigan's last three governors have been Republican.

So there are three conclusions to draw from all this.

1. Don't buy the argument that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett are proof that Republicans can win bluish battlegrounds at a presidential level.

Republicans' gubernatorial successes in off-years say very little about their presidential nominee's chance at winning those states.

Having said that...

2. Republicans have the upper hand on Democrats in battlegrounds during off-years.

If you look at the three, most recently-elected governors in each of the battleground states that vote in off years, Republicans own 17, overall, while Democrats own just 10.

That's a pretty incredible number. Republicans don't just do better than Dems in off-year battlegrounds, they nearly do twice as well.

3. Moving forward, you can expect to see familiar dynamics and narratives in upcoming presidential elections.

If you remember, one of the most common dynamics from the '12 race was the fact that the battleground states where Obama was winning tended to have Republican governors.

Thus, you heard Obama bragging up the Ohio economy, while Republican governor John Kasich did the same (which, of course, undermined Mitt Romney's message).

Well, that probably won't be a one-off. Looking forward, you're going to see that same story over and over again, as Republicans win gubernatorial elections in off years in states where they don't have a prayer in presidential election years.

Here are the stats:

NEVADA = off years.

Nevada has had three straight Republican governors. Not surprisingly, each was elected in off-years (1998, 2006, 2010).

Guinn (R): 1998-2006.
Gibbons (R): 2006-2010.
Sandoval (R): 2010-?

COLORADO = off years

Two of Colorado's last three governors have been Democrats, and both of those Dems were elected in off-years (2006 and 2010).

Thus, Colorado is a battleground state where Dems are actually doing well in off-years.

Owens (R): 1998-2006.
Ritter (D): 2006-2010.
Hickenlooper (D): 2010-?

MISSOURI = prez years

Two of Missouri's last three governors have been Democrats, and were first elected in presidential years (2000, 2004, and 2008).

Thus, Missouri is a battleground/reddish state that Dems do well in on prez years.

Holden (D): 2000-2004.
Blunt (R): 2004-2008.
Nixon (D): 2008-2016.

IOWA: = off years.

Two of Iowa's last three governors have been Democrats (Vilsack in 1998 and Culver in 2006).

Thus, Iowa is a battleground state where Dems actually do well in off-years.

Vilsack (D): 1998-2006.
Culver (D): 2006-2010.
Branstad (R): 2010-?

WISCONSIN = off years.

Two of Wisconsin's last three elected governors have been Republican -- another (McCallum) was appointed to the gig.

Thompson (R): 1986-2000.
Doyle (D): 2002-2010.
Walker (R): 2010-?

MICHIGAN = off years

Two of Michigan's last three governors have been Republican, suggesting Republicans can win the state in off-years.

Engler (R): 1990-2002.
Granholm (D): 2002-2010.
Snyder (R): 2010-?

OHIO = off years

Two of Ohio's last three governors have been Republican, and all were elected in off years.

Taft (R): 2000-2006.
Strickland (D): 2006-2010.
Kasich (R): 2010-?

FLORIDA = off years.

Florida's last three governors have been Republican, and were elected in off-years.

Bush (R): 1998-2006.
Crist (R): 2006-2010.
Scott (R): 2010-?

NORTH CAROLINA = presidential years.

Two of North Carolina's last three governors have been Democrats in what's traditionally known as a red state.

Easley (D): 2000-2008.
Perdue (D): 2008-2012.
McCrory (R): 2012-?

VIRGINIA = off years.

Two of Virginia's last three governors have been Democrats.

Warner (D): 2001-2005.
Kaine (D): 2005-2009.
McDonnell (R): 2009-2013.

PENNSYLVANIA = off years.

Two of the last three elected governors have been Republican.

Tom Ridge (R): 1994-2001.
Ed Rendell (D): 2002-2010.
Corbett (R): 2010-?

NEW HAMPSHIRE = various.

Thanks to special elections, New Hampshire's gubernatorial calendar has been mixed, but the most recent Republican to win did so in an off-year, while both Democrats won in presidential election years.

Benson (R): 2002-2004.
Lynch (D): 2004-2012.
Hassan (D): 2012-?