For House and Senate candidates, governor’s race can be boon or bane

The down-ballot effect of presidential campaigns has been a long-debated subject, but there are several gubernatorial races that may affect the balance of power in Congress.

And, like much else in politics, whether a House or Senate candidate wants a gubernatorial nominee to campaign with him usually comes down to popularity.

ADVERTISEMENT
In New Hampshire, for example, a Democratic governor expected to cruise toward reelection could help Democrats’ chances in competitive House and Senate races.

Gov. John Lynch is seeking his third term after winning reelection in 2006 with 74 percent of the vote — the largest margin for a gubernatorial candidate in state history. Lynch appeared to have coattails; his party also took control of the state House that year and saw Democratic Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Paul Hodes elected in upsets.

“Last cycle it was two things that swept Hodes and Shea-Porter. The two things were [Lynch] and the war,” said Jennifer Donahue, the political director for the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. “They will indeed campaign with him, as he’s extremely popular.”

The Lynch campaign confirmed that the governor has already campaigned with the two representatives and the Democratic Senate candidate, former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, who is leading Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.), according to several polls.

Shea-Porter campaign manager Pia Carusone said all of the Democratic candidates are helping each other out.

“We kind of feel our fortunes are tied together here,” she said.

That’s not the case in Washington state, where the gubernatorial race is a rematch between Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) and Republican Dino Rossi. In 2004, Rossi was declared the winner after weeks of counting — until the Democratic Party and MoveOn.org paid for a hand recount.

The result — Gregoire won by 129 votes.

Still, Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) doesn’t plan any joint appearances with Rossi, even though the GOP gubernatorial candidate won Reichert’s district by a large margin in 2004 and is up by three points over Gregoire in the RealClearPolitics poll average.

“We don’t have any plans to campaign” with Rossi “at this point,” said Reichert spokeswoman Amanda Halligan.

And Gregoire has no plans to appear with Microsoft executive Darcy Burner, who is challenging Reichert in another 2004 rematch. Gregoire’s campaign downplayed any coattail effect.

“At this time we have no plans to campaign with Darcy Burner,” said Gregoire spokeswoman Debra Carnes. “The governor’s platform is very similar to hers, and we imagine that people who turn out to vote for her would probably be inclined to vote for Burner, but can’t say that they’ll necessarily definitely be correlated.”

Burner’s campaign agreed.

“The gubernatorial and our campaigns aren’t joined at the hip in any overt way,” said Burner spokesman Sandeep Kaushik.

Political analysts in Washington see the separate campaigns as a boon to all the candidates involved.

“The political landscape is uncertain, at least around here, so people will try to go it alone,” said David Nice, a political science professor at Washington State University.

In North Carolina, the governor’s race is for an open seat, creating a different playing field for candidates in competitive Senate and House races. While most of the campaigns admitted they run into other candidates at a variety of events, none would use the word “campaign” together.

{mospagebreak}“They’re running their own shows,” said Thad Beyle, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

State Sen. Kay Hagan (D), who is running a competitive campaign against first-term Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R), has been at some events with Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, the Democratic candidate for governor, according to Hagan spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan.

On the Republican side, Dole and Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, the GOP candidate for governor, “do events together all the time,” according to a Dole spokesman.

ADVERTISEMENT
“They’re good friends,” said Dole spokesman Hogan Gidley. “They’re working together to get elected.”

But McCrory spokesman Dan McLagan, while praising Dole’s record, said the senator could stand on her own.

“Sen. Dole’s name recognition and reputation among North Carolinians stands alone” and “doesn’t need the help of Pat McCrory for coattails,” he said.

Gubernatorial coattails, of course, only go far. The recent Wall Street crisis also has made waves in campaigns across the country, and in New Hampshire, Donahue said the strongest thing that could help the Democratic slate was “voters’ trust on the economy.”

The presidential candidates at the top of the ticket also can be a boon or a bane to candidates down the ticket.

“The problem for Democrats is that all the oxygen is being sucked up by the presidential race,” Donahue noted.

It’s a similar situation in North Carolina.

“I think probably the biggest impact is going to be the presidential race,” Beyle said. “At least in this state it’s bringing out a lot of new voters and we don’t know how they’re going to vote down-ballot.”


Katie Stapleton-Paff contributed to this article.