Narrowing polls may not be enough to save Democratic governors

John Rossomando Contributor
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The Democratic Governors Association plans to spend tens of millions of dollars between now and Election Day on numerous races around the country, but even that might not be enough to stave off disaster.

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, the DGA chairman, tried putting the best face on what most see as his Party’s dire predicament come Election Day earlier this week during a National Press Club appearance.

“People are looking for governors who produce results and not at polls,” Markell said. “Democrats have surged and turned races that were close into clear advantages.”

Democrats see opportunities in states such as Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

But analysts say the spin does not square with reality.

“They have the money saved and they are going to spend,” University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato said. “But if there’s one group that is well-positioned to take care of its own  ̶  it’s the Republican Governors Association.

“They have raised more money than God. Haley Barbour has really produced, so it’s obvious the Republicans aren’t going to lack money for their gubernatorial contests.”

Democrats and Republicans saw their bases beginning to pay attention to the races in early October of  1994 and 2006, respectively, but they went on to face humiliating defeats nonetheless.

This year likely will not be different because the numbers have not changed since before Labor Day, and they continue to look bad for Democrats, Sabato said.

Pollster Scott Rasmussen agrees.

“Democrats are a bit more enthusiastic than they were a month ago. But, the enthusiasm gap remains a factor that strongly favors the GOP in 2010,” Rasmussen said in an e-mail to The Daily Caller. “The biggest remaining unknown is Friday’s report on unemployment.

“If it’s a bad report, the Democrats will really have a tough Election Night. If it’s somewhat positive, they may be able to save some seats that currently appear at risk.”

The Delaware governor dismisses the comparison with 1994, saying this year will be different because Republicans lack any original ideas, and voters will not want to return to Bush-era policies.

Markell’s pledge to spend more this year than in 2006 when the Democrats won a majority of the nation’s governors’ mansions does not phase the RGA.

An RGA spokesman who declined to be identified told TheDC that Republicans have the momentum. Their sources say the DGA is having trouble getting resources into places such as traditionally Democratic Hawaii where former Rep. Neil Abercrombie has tied his GOP rival, Lt. Gov. James Aiona.

An Aiona win would mark the first time a Republican has succeeded a member of his own Party as governor since Hawaii became a state in 1959.

The Delaware governor crowed over the tightening of Ohio governor’s race between incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland and former Republican Rep. John Kasich, but RGA released polling results Wednesday showing Kasich with a 50-41 lead over the incumbent.

“They’re swimming with money over at the RGA, and I think they are doing very, very well,” Sabato told TheDC. “They will net at least eight governorships and a lot of legislative chambers too.”
Both parties consider winning a majority of governorships as being crucial because it will help determine reapportionment on the state and federal levels for the next decade.

Democrats might still have a chance in tight races such as Florida and Illinois. But they likely do not have much of a chance of winning in places such as Pennsylvania  ̶  despite Markell’s stated optimism  ̶  due to that state’s habit of changing parties in the governor’s mansion every eight years.

Democrats plan to resist Republican efforts to nationalize the election by keeping their focus on local issues on a state-by-state basis, Markell said.

Markell’s approach reflects an outmoded approach to politics that does not reflect current political conditions, Sabato said.

“There’s a direct relationship between the national trend and the local races,” Sabato said. “Some of it is direct coattails, and some of it is simply because of the same voters who are showing up to vote for Senate and the House are voting for governor and state legislature.”

The 2006 election starkly demonstrated this phenomenon, with voters punishing local Republican candidates around the country with the same ferocity as national GOP candidates.

Consequently, numerous GOP-controlled state Houses such as in Pennsylvania flipped to Democratic control due to voter disgust with George W. Bush and the Republican Party during the 2006 election cycle.