“The GOP today is a tale of two parties,” reads the Republican National Committee’s 2012 autopsy report — a document that is proving to be the gift that keeps on giving to this column. “One of them, the gubernatorial wing, is growing and successful. The other, the federal wing, is increasingly marginalizing itself, and unless changes are made, it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future.”
That’s half-right. The national Republican Party is indeed in shambles. However, Republican governorships are nowhere near as healthy as the RNC claims.
It’s true that the number of Republican governors grew in 2010. The number of Republican anything grew that year — a result of a fluke wave election, fueled by one-off events like the rise of the Tea Party and a historically demoralized and non-voting Democratic base. The 2010 wave came at a particularly opportune time for the GOP, as it allowed them to gerrymander themselves into strong majorities in state legislatures and the U.S. House.
Republicans seemingly had big opportunities in 2012, with Democrats defending gubernatorial seats in Montana, Missouri, North Carolina and West Virginia. But when the dust settled, only North Carolina went Republican — despite the presence of President Obama, not the most popular figure in red states, on the Democratic ticket. High hopes for a GOP pickup in Washington fizzled badly. Democrats picked up the governorship in Puerto Rico, but more relevantly, they came within 3 points of a shocking pickup in Indiana — a seat Republicans should have held easily against an underfunded and unheralded Democrat.
And in 2014, when the beneficiaries of the 2010 gubernatorial wave — 23 Republicans, compared to just 13 Democrats — face reelection, the myth of the governors’ mansions as a GOP bulwark will truly be exposed.
Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett is likely the nation’s most embattled governor, with poll numbers in the mid-30s against his potential Democratic challengers. Florida’s Rick Scott isn’t far behind, though he does crack 40 percent against some of his potential challengers. The approval ratings of Michigan’s Rick Snyder are in the mid-30s, as are Nathan Deal’s in Georgia. Both Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio have improved in the polls, but both remain under 50 percent against potential 2014 opponents.
And that’s just swing-state governors. The likely loss of three or more of those governors will hamper the GOP’s ability to electorally rig their states ahead of the 2016 presidential election, using tactics such as the cockamamy scheme to apportion swing-state electoral votes by their heavily gerrymandered congressional districts.
Republicans are also in trouble in Maine, where a fluky three-way contest in 2010 allowed Paul LePage to sneak in with just 38 percent of the vote, while the open seat in Arizona will test their hold in a demographically shifting state. And Republicans should be ecstatic that Kansas and South Carolina are so red, given the sorry state of their governors in those states.
It’s not all bad news for the GOP. Three blue-state Republican governors — New Jersey’s Chris Christie, New Mexico’s Susana Martinez and Nevada’s Brian Sandoval — are bucking the trend and enjoying solid poll numbers. And Republicans don’t have to sweat states like Wyoming and Idaho. But 2014 will prove that outside of their strongholds, Republican governorships are something less than “growing and successful.”
Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com)