Dems plan ambitious campaign for red-state governorships

Dems plan ambitious campaign for red-state governorships
The man who will lead Democratic efforts to win back governorships in key states next year says his party is poised to capitalize on a political environment so favorable it will make the Republican wave of 1994 look small.
 
And he would know: That year, then-Rep. Jay Inslee (Wash.) was one of the victims of the Republican wave, losing his district to a GOP foe.
 
Now, Inslee is serving his second term as Washington's governor. He formally takes charge of the Democratic Governors Association on Monday, about a month after Democrats won the New Jersey governor's race and kept control in Virginia, where Gov.-elect Ralph Northam (D) won by a surprisingly large margin. 
 
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Inslee said Northam benefitted from a deeply unpopular Republican president, something Democrats across the country will exploit next year.
 
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this year because of the terrible price that the Trump effect will have on Republican candidates, like we saw in Virginia," Inslee said in an interview Friday. "There is just no escaping that shadow, that cloud. I experienced it myself in 1994."
 
"When these waves break, there's just no safe harbor," he said.
 
But Inslee said Democrats will not run exclusively against the Trump administration, even with a president whose approval ratings are mired in the 30s.
 
"The lead message for every Democrat running for governor is going to be economic growth and job creation for family-wage jobs. They're all going to have their independent and state-specific plans to do that," Inslee said.
 
Thirty-six states will elect a governor in 2018. Thirteen states currently held by Republicans will elect a new governor, because of term limits, while Democrats are defending just four open seats. Thirteen Republicans are seeking reelection, as are five Democrats. The governor of Alaska, independent Bill Walker, is also running for a second term.
 
Inslee said Democrats will almost certainly win governorships in Maine, New Mexico and Nevada — three states where Republican governors are term-limited — and they will be competitive even in deep-red states like South Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Kansas. 
 
The governors of Tennessee and Oklahoma are term-limited. The governor of Kansas, Sam Brownback, has been tapped to serve as an ambassador for religious liberty in the State Department, and his replacement, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer (R), faces a competitive GOP primary. So does South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R), who ascended to his post when his predecessor Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyHaley: 'Open question' if US athletes will attend Olympics amid North Korea tensions Haley: Trump isn't deciding who controls east Jerusalem Emergency UN Security Council meeting called after Trump's Jerusalem announcement: report MORE was named U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
 
Inslee declined to speculate about the number of governorships Democrats might win next year, but after successive Republican-wave elections in 2010 and 2014, it would be almost impossible for Democrats not to pick up seats. Just 16 states have Democratic governors, compared with 33 states where Republicans are in charge, close to an all-time high.
 
Republicans point to the number of red states — like South Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Kansas — as evidence that Democrats have an uphill fight, even if the wind is at their backs.
 
"The DGA talks a big game on 2018 governors' races, but their weak fundraising and poor candidate recruitment doesn't match up with their rhetoric," said Jon Thompson, the communications director at the Republican Governors Association. "If Jay Inslee continues to pin his success on third- and fourth-tier Democrat gubernatorial candidates who consistently back anti-jobs policies, he's going to be in for a big surprise on Election Day."
 
Democrats control the governorship and both state legislative chambers in just eight states — including Inslee's home state, where Democrats won a special election in November to capture control of the state Senate, the last redoubt of Republican control there.
 
Republicans own trifectas in 26 states, including presidential swing territory like Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida. 
 
Inslee said the Democratic Governors Association will raise and spend extra money in Republican-held states where the governor has a say in the decennial redistricting process. Democrats believe friendlier maps in those states — Nevada, Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maine, Wisconsin and Florida, along with Virginia — could net their party as many as 20 seats in Congress.
 
"Gerrymandering is a cancer on democracy, and by electing Democrats in these governor's races, they can influence the redistricting process that's going to happen in 2020," Inslee said. "And it's absolutely pivotal that we do that to restore some sense of fairness to the U.S. House of Representatives."
 
Both Democrats and Republicans have seen a surge in the number of candidates interested in running for office. More than 200 candidates have publicly announced their campaigns for governor, and in states like Colorado and Maine, as many as a dozen contenders are already running.
 
Inslee said Democrats should consider nominating a governor for president in 2020; two of the last three Democratic presidents, Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonMueller’s probe doesn't end with a bang, but with a whimper Mark Mellman: History’s judgment Congress should massively ramp up funding for the NIH MORE and Jimmy Carter, came from governor's mansions rather than from Congress. And several Democratic governors have privately made known they plan to consider bids, including Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, outgoing Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
 
Inslee, too, is on that list. His office is next up for election in 2020, and Washington does not limit its governors. Inslee said he has yet to make his own future plans, whether they be running for reelection or for some higher office. Still, he could not resist putting in a plug for his home state.
 
"My horizon does not stretch that far. I've got the best state in the country with the best economy and the lowest unemployment rate in state history," he said.