Some GOP Governors Face Uphill Road to 2014 Re-election

Democrats hope to paint GOP governors as unfocused, out-of-touch.

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Incumbency brings advantages in both name recognition and fundraising power, but can also be a double-edged sword.

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Republicans won a slew of governors races in 2010, including some in purple and blue states, when the economy was floundering and voter dissatisfaction fueled the growth of the tea party movement. Four years later, however, some of their chances for re-election are looking problematic, so says a leading political prognosticator.

"For the most part, Democrats appear to have the better chances to defeat Republican incumbents. Govs. Rick Scott of Florida, Rick Snyder of Michigan and Paul LePage of Maine all are in what appear to be coin-flip races," said a report issued by Larry Sabato, head of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

Sabato's Crystal Ball, released Thursday, looks at the 36 governors races on the ballot in 2014.

Other incumbent Republicans, such as Ohio's John Kasich and Wisconsin's Scott Walker – who already faced a recall election in 2012 and won – appear better poised for re-election, the report said.

One big difference between 2014 and past election cycles is the number of incumbents on the ballot, which should help some.

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"Approximately 30 of the 36 incumbents will be on the November ballot – the largest number in over a half-century," said the report. "[And] since 1960, about four of every five incumbent governors who made a general election ballot have been re-elected."

Incumbency generally brings advantages in both name recognition and fundraising power, but as Sabato's evaluation points out, it can also be a double-edged sword.

Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Tom Corbett is a prime example.

"While it is uncommon to classify any incumbent governor as an underdog at such an early point in the cycle, Corbett is a rare case: His numbers are dreadful, and he seems to us to be a particularly maladroit politician, prone to painful gaffes, who is also probably too conservative for his state," said the Crystal Ball report.

In fact, Democrats stand a good chance of knocking off a handful of Republican governors such as Scott, Snyder and LePage, the report said. Unlike Corbett, however, "they are not underdogs."

But it's not all doom and gloom for Republicans. They could defeat Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy in Connecticut, who is "struggling," said the report. Furthermore, the GOP, which currently holds 30 of the 50 governorships, stands a decent chance of holding even after the 2014 election, the analysis determined.

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Danny Kanner, communications director for the Democratic Governors Association, says his team is going on the offense, building a narrative that the Republicans who ran promising to focus on economics were sidetracked by social issues and paying back favors to big business.

"There is serious buyers' remorse across the country," he says. "[Republican governors] focused on attacks on women's health, including mandatory ultrasounds, focused on attacking labor rather than creating jobs, and that's why with strong candidates in 2014 we feel like we're in a great position to take back some of those seats that belong in Democratic hands."

But Republicans counter that unemployment rates have dropped and state economies have improved during their tenure and are banking on the upward trends to win over voters, says Jon Thompson, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association.

It's an argument that Sabato said has merit.

"Even disliked incumbents can convert better economic numbers into a powerful argument for re-election," he said in the report. "Voters aren't sure why the economy strengthens or weakens, and it often has little to do with governors. But why take a chance? So incumbents get the credit, and extra votes. This – and the power of incumbency that will come to bear in the lion's share of these races — could save the governors we think are endangered, or at least make the races very close."

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