Guest post: US Mid-Terms – Governor and State

November 1, 2010 § 5 Comments

Here is the second half of our analysis of the US mid-terms, provided once again by Britain Votes‘s Tom Harris. The first half is here.

Although Congress is where most of the Mid-Term attention is directed, many states will also be electing their Governors and State Legislatures next Tuesday. The obvious reason the Congressional elections are the main concern is because they will have an immediately impact on the national politics. The State level elections will not have the same initial affect, however there are a couple of reasons why they shouldn’t be ignored.

Firstly, State Governorships are the traditional breeding group for future Presidents. Don’t be fooled by the 2008 election where all three main candidates were Senators; experience as Governor of a big state is an extremely useful job to have at the top of your CV when running for the top job. Indeed, the three two-term Presidents of the last thirty years were all Governors before they ran for President – Regan (California), Clinton (Arkansas) and Bush II (Texas). On top of that 2010 is a special year at state level as there is a new census to be published. Unlike Britain, most US states do not have an independent commission to administer boundary changes following a new census. If as state gains or loses a seat in the redistricting then the state legislatures divide up the state and send the proposals to the Governor for approval. If one party controls the legislative branch and the other the executive then both sides will need to compromise. However, if one party holds both of the State’s Houses and the Governorship then they have free reign to make sure they benefit from the new boundaries. Ever wondered where the term Gerrymandering came from? Well, it’s named after Gov. Gerry of Massachusetts, who is regarded as the founder of this delightful practise.

As in the last post I informed you of an impending GOP wave in the Congressional elections you may be imagining lots of smiling Republicans across the country waiting to wipe the Democrats of the map. So may wish to, but the practicalities make the truth a little different. Firstly, the US isn’t as divided as the Presidential map looks. A much better reflection of the political make up is the map below, which gives the results by county and the scale by population.

Blue=Democrats and Red =Republicans

Blue=Democrats, Red=Republicans

Although some states always vote for one party in the big elections, it is rarely by more than 60% of the vote. Not only does that make it difficult, although not impossible, to shut the opposition party out when redistricting, often they do much better in State elections anyway. The Democrats are especially good at controlling legislatures in states they loses badly in Presidential elections. For instance, McCain won Alabama 60-39 in 2008, but the Democrats have controlled both houses in the state for over a century!

So, what we really need to look at are the states where both chambers and the Governorship could all fall into the hands of either party. Conveniently, the National Conference of State Legislatures has produced a list of chambers which may switch. Some of these are irrelevant to the redistricting because the states are so small, population wise, that nothing is likely to changes. Alaska is a prime example as it only has one seat in the House of Representatives. Even states with three or four Congressmen are going to struggle to get much of an advantage from redistricting. So I’ll concentrate on the larger states where the trifecta is possible for either the Republicans or the Democrats, or the races are quite interesting.

California is by far the biggest prize of them all, but it looks like it might be taken off the table. Californians like their direct democracy and they often vote on ballot initiatives, or referenda, at the same time as they elect their representatives. The most controversial this year is Proposition 19 which, if passed, will legalise marijuana. Proposition 20 is relatively boring, but hugely important. If it is passed it will hand redistricting powers to an independent body. There is little polling on the initiative but a similar proposition in 2008 narrowly passed. This set up the California Citizens Redistricting Commission which currently oversees the redistricting of state boundaries. If Proposition 20 does fail it is the Democrats who stand to profit. They currently hold both state legislatures and are ahead in the Governor race. Former Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and Meg Whitman (R) were neck and neck in the polls until the end of September. Whitman was campaigning hard to crack down on employers who take on illegal immigrants but then it emerged she herself had employed an illegal immigrant as her nanny. She has failed to recover and Brown looks set to win by a comfortable margin.

New York is another big state where the Democrats have their eye on the trifecta. Earlier in the cycle Andrew Cuomo (D) and Carl Paladino (R) looked set for a tight battle to become the next Governor of New York, but in the last two months the race has decisively swung in the Democrats favour. Cuomo is expected to win handily, and with the House also look to stick with the Democrats all eyes are on New York’s crazy Senate. Traditionally the Republicans control the upper house but in 2008 the Democrats secured a majority of 32-30, their first for over 40 years. However, in June 2009 the state was plunged into political uncertainly when two Democrats sided with the Republicans to oust the majority leader of the Senate. The move involved dubious procedures, and a blackout, thus creating a fair bit of controversy. Eventually the two Democrats returned to the fold and order was restored. If you have the time to delve into that more thoroughly then feel free, but for now it’s enough to say the New York Senate is a tad unpredictable. If the Democrats do manage to hold the Senate then they will probably be redrawing a state will one less Congressional District. Still, with 28 seats to play with there is certainly potential to skew the changes in your favour.

Florida is another large state with a close gubernatorial race. Gov. Charlie Christ (FL-I) decided to run for the open senate seat in the state, but as I summarised on Tuesday he isn’t doing to well. This has left an open Governorship in a state with 25 congressional seats and another one expected after the census. The Republicans currently hold both houses in Florida so all eyes are on the race to succeed Crist. Currently it is VERY close, with different polls showing Rick Scott (R) and Alex Sink (D) narrowly ahead. Given the history of close elections in Florida, and the amount at stake, this may not be over on the night.

Ohio and Pennsylvania both have similar situations developing with regards to control of their states. Currently the Democrats control the Governorship and the House in both states, but the Republicans hold the Senate. However, in both cases the Republicans are poised to win the gubernatorial race, and so the attention will then turn to the House. The Republicans just need to gain a couple of seats in each state to take control of the lower chambers, which is bad news for the Democrats. There are just under 20 Congressional districts in each state and although both are expected to lose out following the census reapportionment that’s a lot of material for the Republicans to work with. The Republicans are strong favourites to take the trifecta in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and as a result they’ll redistrict themselves a couple of extra Congressional seats.

The Democrats control both houses in Illinois and Wisconsin so the gubernatorial races in each state are hotly contested. I dealt with the strange situation in Illinois the other day, and this election is certainly tainted by the events of the last few years. Although the current Governor Pat Quinn (D-IL), who took over following Blagojevich’s impeachment, doesn’t appear to be personally tainted by the corruption scandal the Democrat brand isn’t doing too well locally or nationally. As a result Quinn has been trailing Bill Brady (R) quite consistently and it looks like the Republicans will win this by a small margin. Wisconsin is more clear cut. It is another state with close races for Senate and Governor but the Republicans have pulled out convincing leads in both races. Scott Walker (R) is seat to defeat Tom Barrett (D) by around 10 points in this open seat, denying the Democrats a prime redistricting opportunity.

The Democrats do, however, look set to secure the trifecta in Minnesota. They control both houses and the race for Governor has been consistently led by the Democratic candidate Mark Dayton. The Republicans, who currently hold the Governorship, have been hampered by a third party bid from a former Republican Tom Horner and as a result Tom Emmer (R) has struggled to get ahead in this one. Minnesota has a history of contentious redistricting legislation, often ending up in the courts, so the state may still be in the news even if the Democrats control the key institutions.

Tennessee is a much better bet for the Republicans as they hope to win the Governorship to add to their control of both legislative houses. Bill Haslam (R) had been leading Mike McWherter by up to 20 points so the Republicans are very comfortable here. They are also hoping to take the House in Indiana, where they already hold the Governorship and are unlikely to lose the Senate. Indiana is a Republican leaning swing state and so there is potential for them to gain a seat if they have full control of the districting process. They only need a net gain of three seats in the House to secure that full control, so things don’t look good for the Democrats here.

Elsewhere there are some gubernatorial races which are intriguing in their own right. In Colorado there appears to be a late swing towards the ex-Republican, Independent candidate Tom Tancredo. The Democrat John Hickenlooper has comfortably led throughout the cycle as the official Republican Dan Maes has been struggling with Tancredo for second place. During October, conservatives in Colorado seem to have got behind Tancredo as the best option to stop Hickenlooper and Maes has dropped as low as 10% in some polls. Still, Hickenlooper has consistently been polling over 50% so he seems likely to win.

In Rhode Island there is a genuine three way battle taking place with all three candidates polling between 25-35% recently. The former Republican senator Lincoln Chaffee decided early on to run as an Independent, which virtually destroyed any hope John Robitaille (R) had of winning. Chaffee is a popular figure in the state, and had always been tipped to do well, but the official Republican candidate is still polling strongly which has been helping Frank Caprio (D). In the last few weeks though the race has seemingly swung towards Chaffee and he is favourite going into Tuesday vote. However, with all three candidates so close pretty much anything can happen.

The final three-way race is in Maine, and it is favouring the Republican candidate. Maine was traditionally a Republican stronghold in New England, but recently the Democrats have taken over. This is an open seat though and Paul LePage (R) had been narrowly leading Libby Mitchell (D) throughout the summer. Recently, there has been a big shift of support towards the Independent candidate Eliot Cutler. Cutler has links to the Democrats, having worked in the Carter administration, and his candidacy seems to be spitting the Democrats support. It’s possible that LePage could win this win only 40% of the vote, although as the momentum is with Cutler it is possible some of Mitchell’s support will switch to prevent the Republicans winning. LePage is the favourite, but I wouldn’t rule out a surprise.

Finally, there are a couple of close races in straight battles between the two main parties. Brian Dubie was uncontested for the Republican nomination in Vermont but he led Peter Shumlin (D) in the few polls taken over the summer. In the last couple of months there have only been two polls, both showing the race within the Margin of Error. Because of the lack of polling it’s hard to tell which way this will fall. There has been a bit more attention paid to the race in Oregon where John Kitzhaber (D) just has the edge over Chris Dudley (R). Dudley has led in some recent polls, but most have shown a lead for Kitzhaber. None has given a large lead to either candidate though so the Governorship is very much up for grabs.

So there you have it. Hopefully this has provided a overview of the Mid-Term elections and covered all the key races to watch out for. If anyone is thinking of following the coverage on Tuesday, but are fearful of a very late night, there is no need to worry. The Americans finish vote very early compared to the British. Indiana and Kentucky close their polls at 6pm Eastern Time, which is 2200 over here. There will be a big batch of states finishing at 8pm E.T (0000) and an even bigger one at 9pm (0100) so it should be clear what is going on by around 0200 over here. @BritainVotes will be live tweeting from around 2200 (I have to watch Plymouth Argyle lose first) and we’ll be running through the night if anyone cares to join us!

Thanks Tom. In addition @whoruleswhere will be tweeting results and I will be updating a feed on this blog throughout the night. Until then I’ll be putting the various bits and bobs I find in the comments sections: on this article for State and Gubernatorial races and here for House and Senate races.

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