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A Second Look At Gubernatorial Running Mates

Normally the choice of a lieutenant governor excites little interest, but voters in Illinois know better. Five lieutenant governors, including current Gov. Pat Quinn, have risen to the top job in the past three years for varying reasons, including impeachment and criminal prosecution.

Thus Illinois Democrats closed the book on a potentially embarrassing episode this week as Gov. Quinn turned to a trusted name in state politics in his search for a running mate. He chose Sheila Simon, daughter of late Senator Paul Simon, to replace Lt.-Gov. Nominee Scott Lee Cohen, who dropped out after it was revealed he once assaulted a girlfriend.

Around the country, nine current governors achieved their jobs through succession, three of whom ultimately went on to win full terms in their own right. This November, four races feature an unelected governor seeking a full term -- Alaska, Arizona, Illinois and Utah. (In one, New York's unelected Governor David Paterson recently bowed out of a race for a full term).

Lieutenant governors in three other states are also mounting credible runs for U.S. Senate seats, including Arkansas' Bill Halter, Kentucky's Dan Mongiardo, and Ohio's Lee Fisher -- all Democrats.

If the vice presidency is a bucket of you-know-what, the lieutenant governorship might appear to be even less enviable. But in recent years the job has come to seem a newly powerful stepping stone. Ask San Francisco's mayor, Gavin Newsom, who recently dropped a flailing gubernatorial bid but now is running for the lieutenant governor's job.

The Politics Of Unemployment

The release of the monthly unemployment report has spawned something of a ritual of late in Washington. Within minutes of the number being made public, statements come from Republicans and Democrats alike. White House advisers then offer their spin, followed by an on-camera statement from the president himself. All of this is done with an eye toward November, knowing that the state of the economy is bound to be a top concern.

The release of state-by-state data has been considerably less choreographed. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics issued the latest 50-state results Wednesday to little fanfare. But for state leaders, especially those looking for new terms in November, the numbers are just as vital for their political fortunes. And a close look at the data in many cases explains the political peril some governors are in.

Overall, 30 states saw unemployment rate increases from December to January, compared to just nine states that saw decreases. Very few changed by more than a few tenths of a percent in either direction. But in all 50 states, the number of unemployed workers was higher in January 2010 than it was in January 2009.

Just as most believe President Obama's popularity is tied to a large extent by the economic outlook, there's a clear correlation between governors' approval ratings and their state's unemployment rates. Using public polling available recently in 33 of the 50 states, we note the following trends:

Continue reading "The Politics Of Unemployment" »

On Stimulus, Republican Governors Walk Fine Line

A year after the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the overwhelming majority of Congressional Republicans continue to be critical of the so-called stimulus bill for having spent far too much for far too little economic boost. House Minority Leader John Boehner's "Where are the jobs?" mantra has become a staple of the minority party's critique of the administration's signature economic initiative.

The message is murkier when it comes to Republican governors, however. Faced with decreasing revenues and loath to raise taxes, the stimulus dollars were impossible for most to turn down last year, even for its strongest critics.

"I think almost every conservative opposed it but when the federal government spends it across the country I know of no governor, no state, nobody who would turn down any substantial portion of it," Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) said in an interview with CBN at CPAC last week. "There were a few minor exceptions to that but everybody took it."

As governors from both parties gathered in Washington for the annual NGA winter meeting this week, the stimulus remained a major topic of discussion. And in some cases, the continuing debate has forced the Republicans who accepted it into difficult political circumstances.

"It was the right thing to do. We needed the money," Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) told reporters at the White House Monday when asked if he had any regrets over his support for the plan.

Crist, of course, is now the Republican most at risk over the stimulus. His deficit in the Republican primary against Marco Rubio in the race for the open U.S. Senate seat in Florida grows larger with each passing poll, it seems, and his infamous embrace of President Obama at a pro-stimulus rally last February is a major reason why.

Continue reading "On Stimulus, Republican Governors Walk Fine Line" »

Markell: Gubernatorial Races Could Be Bright Spot For Dems

In what is shaping up to be a difficult climate for Democrats in the midterm Congressional races this fall, there's reason for optimism outside Washington, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell told RCP this morning.

"We really believe that the governor's races could be a bright spot for Democrats in November," Markell, chair of the Democratic Governors Association, said. In those races, voters are focusing not on Washington but what is being done in their states to "put people back to work and manage spending well to improve schools."

He rattled off a list of states where he feels the party is well-positioned to pick up seats, including California, Texas and Florida. And in many states, Markell said voters will have "stark choices" between Democratic candidates who "are trying to lead forward and take the country to a better place, and Republicans who want to just turn the clock back."

As for states where the party is on defense, Markell conceded that it is a "very tough environment" to be running in. But he advised fellow incumbents to be visible, "directly communicating with their constituents and not hiding behind the trappings of the office."

"It's not just about making tough decisions," he said. "People vote on their aspirations and their future rather than on their fear. So people have got to have a sense that you get it, that you're going to fight for them, and that you have a plan. And that plan has got to be ... very much about jobs, but also about spending money wisely and about schools."

Democrats continue to see retirements in Congressional elections, most recently Sen. Evan Bayh's (D) stunning decision. Gov. Bill Ritter (D-Colo.) was the latest in the gubernatorial arena to decide against another term, but Markell said he doesn't expect any more such announcements.

Gov. Haley Barbour (R), chair of the Republican Governors Association, told a group of reporters last night that his party remains "fired up and optimistic" about their position entering a year when 37 states hold gubernatorial elections.

Continue reading "Markell: Gubernatorial Races Could Be Bright Spot For Dems" »

Governor Campaign Committees Report Record Hauls

Majority control of governorships does not have the kind of cache as being the majority party in Congress. And yet both the Democratic and Republican Governors Associations will each likely edge their legislative committee counterparts when it comes to funds raised in 2009.

Both the DGA and RGA reported their fundraising totals today, and both report a record amount raised for what should be an active year with 37 governorships at stake. But it's the Republicans who claim bragging rights, ending 2009 with a $7.5 million cash-on-hand advantage heading into state contests.

Committee Raised / Cash On Hand
RGA $30M / $25M
DGA $23.1M / $17.5M

Through November, the DCCC had the highest cash on hand total for Democratic fundraising committees with $15.4 million. The RNC had the most on the Republican side with $8.7 million.

The Democratic Governors Association says it raised $7 million in the fourth quarter alone, including $4 million in December -- after the party lost races in New Jersey and Virginia. Its $17.5 million nest egg for 2010 is 12 times more money than it had in the comparable 2006 cycle, the organization boasts. It spent $14 million that year, when it picked up six seats as part of a national pro-Democratic wave.

For its part, the Republican Governors Association broke its previous fundraising record of $28.2 million in 2006, and now has $21 million more on hand than it did entering that year.

Both parties had support from major surrogates. President Obama held a DC fundraiser for the DGA in October. Former Gov. Sarah Palin has urged her Facebook fans to donate to the RGA, and also offered signed copies of her new book to committee backers.

Governors races in 2010 will have greater national significance because of the role many state executives have in the redistricting process. The role of these party committees in gubernatorial races varies greatly based on state laws, but the impact was surely felt in 2009 races. The RGA, for instance, helped Chris Christie narrow a wide spending gap between he and Gov. Jon Corzine (D).

New Chair Markell Outlines DGA Offensive For 2010

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell is just 11 months into his first term, but takes a high-profile leadership post in the Democratic Party today as the new chairman of the Democratic Governors Association for 2010. A formal announcement is to be made shortly at the organization's Holiday Meeting here in Washington.

Markell had already been serving as the DGA's finance chairman. As incoming chair, replacing Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, he now cements his status as a rising figure in the national Democratic Party and is charged with the difficult task of heading up the party's efforts to hold its majority of governorship in 2010. It's a quick rise, too -- consider that just over a year ago, Markell was not even the choice of many establishment Democrats in Delaware as he ran for the office. Retiring Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) was among those backing the then-lieutenant governor, John Carney, in the September gubernatorial primary. Markell, then state Treasurer, won that race by under 2,000 votes before cruising to a general election win.

In an exclusive op-ed for Real Clear Politics, the new DGA chairman lays out the challenges his party specifically faces in 2010, particularly after two defeats this past November. But he also previews the offensive effort they'll be making against the Republicans.

Admittedly, history's headwind is working against us. Since 1978, the President's party has traditionally lost an average of five Governor's offices during the first mid-term election. And though Republicans may outspend us, the DGA is better prepared than at any point in our history to help our candidates. We helped recruit strong candidates around the country and are making early investments in key states.

In fact, we are starting some of those investments today, with a new effort to put our opponents on notice. The DGA will hold them accountable for any attempt they make to block our nation's return to greater prosperity. This new initiative, The GOP Accountability Project, will remind people in critical states that the same Republicans who are pledging progress now helped create the national recession which we have had to work so hard to reverse.

Sanford, Former RGA Chair, Keeps Low Profile

CEDAR CREEK, Texas -- When the Republican Governors Association kicked off efforts to take back a majority of governorships in the 2009-10 cycle, it was South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) leading its efforts. When we interviewed him in February, he also was leading Republican opposition to the proposed stimulus package and the subject of 2012 speculation.

As the organization meets here this week, however, Sanford has kept a decidedly low profile, avoiding most of the open press sessions like this morning's health care press conference. The photo below was a rare glimpse by myself and several other reporters as we shuttled between events.


Back home in the Palmetto State, meanwhile, Sanford's woes continue. Today the speaker of the State House "has called on Gov. Mark Sanford to release a disputed investigative report into the governor's possible ethical or criminal violations stemming from his travel and use of campaign funds," The State reports. Yesterday, the state ethics panel ruled that the governor "will face an ethics panel next year to answer charges that he may have violated state law," per AP.

GOP Govs Blast Health Care Bills, Claim Dems Also Wary

rgahcare.jpgCEDAR CREEK, Texas -- Republican governors expressed strong opposition to versions of health care legislation being considered in the House and Senate, saying both would impose heavy burdens on state governments that are already struggling to balance their books.

In making a joint statement at a press conference here today, the 17 Republican governors on stage said that they spoke as well for many of their Democratic colleagues.

"We've not typically intervened on subjects like this, but we didn't know who else would do it," Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said. The non-partisan Nationals Governors Association, he added, "has been paralyzed by partisan reluctance to say what many Democratic governors have said to us privately and a few have said publicly."

Daniels also said many representatives of the business community on hand for this conference have told them that they're make their concerns public as well, for fear that their "business interests would be threatened."

"We just hope that in some way we can contribute to the national dialogue this morning," he said. "There's a far better way forward. Before it's too late let's find it."

Twenty-two of the members of the Democratic Governors Association did release a letter earlier this year in support of the federal policy. The White House has also highlighted the support of former Republican officials.

The major concern that governors outlined was changes to Medicaid that would result in what Gov. Haley Barbour called a $25 billion tax on the states.

"We're concerned about the federal government overreaching and trampling the prerogative of states across this great country," Gov. Tim Pawlenty said. "At a time when state budgets that are tighter than ever, that's not only going to be burdensome. But also from a policy direction, it heads our country in the wrong direction."

Continue reading "GOP Govs Blast Health Care Bills, Claim Dems Also Wary" »