Republicans are confident their gubernatorial candidates in key battleground states will boost the party’s chances in Senate and House races.
“Governors’ races drive turnout,” Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who heads the Republican Governors Association (RGA), said during a recent trip to Washington. “Usually, governors’ races are better funded, and they take a lot of the responsibility in the ground game.”
“There is a correlation between electing senators and electing governors,” said Barbour, who is considered one of his party’s top strategists and fundraisers. “It is a very high likelihood that if we don’t elect a Republican governor in a state, that we will not pick up a Senate seat. That rarely happens; in the last 20 years, it’s rarely happened. Those two are tied together — a lot.”
Republicans point to Illinois, California and Iowa as three examples where the GOP could gain an edge because of its top-of-the-ticket candidates. Democrats, meanwhile, feel their candidates in Colorado, Florida, New England and Texas could generate coattails for the down-ballot races.
“Certainly, people who vote for governor are probably going to end up voting for Senate,” said Nathan Daschle, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association. “But look, what that also means is that in states like Colorado, Florida, Texas, certainly the New England states, our strong candidates are going to turn out [voters] for the down-ballot races.
“I don’t think there’s any evidence that it breaks down to any advantage for Republicans.”
Republicans point to Illinois as one of the best examples of how their Senate and gubernatorial candidates can complement one another.
Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), the party’s Senate nominee, has represented a Chicagoland district for 10 years, while gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady (R), a state lawmaker from Bloomington in central Illinois, has served in the State Legislature since the early 1990s.
“I think the two campaigns complement each other from a turnout standpoint as it relates to geography,” said Nick Ayers, the RGA’s executive director.
Citing a recent Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll, Daschle said he doubted Brady’s candidacy would increase GOP turnout, because 40 percent of respondents in the survey didn’t have an opinion of him. Daschle also cited a bill Brady introduced in the state Senate two days after winning the Feb. 2 primary that would have re-legalized mass euthanasia of stray shelter animals in gas chambers.
“Bill Brady is not the type of Republican that gets elected in Illinois,” Daschle insisted.
Still, the Tribune poll had Brady getting 37 percent to 32 percent for Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, and 19 percent undecided.
Republicans are also confident that California Republican Meg Whitman’s well-funded gubernatorial campaign — she’s already spent some $104 million of her own money on the race — will help drive turnout in a state where campaign advertising is notoriously expensive. Whitman’s expenditures could help Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D-Calif.) challenger, Carly Fiorina (R).
Daschle, however, was dismissive of the idea of Whitman inspiring Republicans to go to the polls.
“I really find the notion that Meg Whitman is going to generate some [groundswell] to be kind of laughable,” he said, noting the former eBay CEO has high unfavorable ratings in several polls, including 44 percent in a recent Rasmussen survey. “How much does she have to spend [to turn that around]?” Daschle asked.
Most polls show the gubernatorial race is too close to call, with Whitman leading by a few points.
Democrats are less bullish about Iowa, where an average of public polls by Pollster.com shows former Gov. Terry Branstad (R) leading Gov. Chet Culver (D) by almost 17 points. If Branstad improves Republican turnout over previous cycles, it could help his party capture Rep. Leonard Boswell’s (D-Iowa) seat. The seven-term incumbent is considered to be in a toss-up race against Republican Brad Zaun.
The RGA has become a central component of the GOP’s midterm strategy — mainly because of its successful fundraising. With Barbour at the helm, the committee has taken in record hauls, announcing $40 million cash on hand at the start of July. This comes at a time when, by comparison, some GOP committees are struggling to stay level with their Democratic rivals.
The DGA, in contrast, had $22 million cash on hand as of July.
Barbour said his committee is trying to make up any gaps the Republican National Committee leaves in the party’s campaign structure.
“It appears the RNC won’t be able to put as much money into state party get-out-the-vote operations as they have sometimes in the past, and yes, we have taken that into consideration to try to be sure that we have a good ground game in the states where we think it matters, which is everywhere,” he said.
RNC officials insisted they’re investing in states like Illinois, where they see opportunities to coordinate between the different campaigns. The committee has opened 14 field offices, with another pending, according to a party official. Moreover, the RNC has regional directors for each office who are overseen by Midwest political director Chris McNulty.
“We would not be there investing money, investing time, if we didn’t sense an opportunity,” McNulty said.