Twenty years ago, amidst the Republican landslide that flipped the control of Congress and sent a Democratic presidency careening into a ditch, the lesser-reported story was the shakeup at the top of state governments.
Overnight, Republicans went from 20 to 30 governors (including a fellow from Texas named Bush).
Here we are in 2014 and, again, the state races aren’t getting the attention they deserve. Of the 38 contests being decided on Tuesday (22 Republican, 16 Democratic), 12 are toss-ups per Real Clear Politics’ estimation. That includes seven held by Republicans and five held by Democrats.
These races may prove to the Democrats’ consolation on Election Night if, as assumed the GOP picks up seats in the House and if, as as suspected, Republicans pick up at least six Senate seats and control of the upper chamber.
And what would Democratic success look like?
For beginners: holding on to Democratic-held seats in Illinois and Massachusetts.
Then: picking up seats in big-name states where GOP incumbents are struggling: Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Finally: these four states . . . four worth mentioning, with four days to go in the election.
And they are:
Alaska. The Last Frontier has crossed a new threshold: a “unity” ticket seeking to take out incumbent GOP Gov. Sean Parnell. On that ticket: Republican-turned-independent Bill Walker and Byron Mallot, the winner of the state’s Democratic ticket who has since taken up the mantle of independent. What both gentlemen are doing is channeling the ghost of the late Walter Hickel, who governed Alaska on two separate occasions — the second time as an independent (he’d later return to the GOP fold). A third-party Republican group is spending heavily down the stretch, making Walker the issue (he wants to expand Medicaid, something Parnell opposes). A wild-card in this race (as it’s Alaska, you can guess where this going . . .): the Mama Grizzly herself. Sarah Palin’s endorsed the unity ticket — for professional and personal matters, such as Gov. Parnell undoing Palin’s oil-tax increase. The current Real Clear Politics average: Walker by 1.8%.
Georgia. America will be watching this on Tuesday night — then watching it again and again and again . . . past Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s . . . assuming the three-way contest fails to produce a majority winner and the top-two finishers have at it again in a Jan. 6 runoff. Two x-factors to consider in the Peach State: (1) just how much damage can Libertarian Andrew Hunt cause in the primary — he sounds like incumbent GOP Gov. Nathan Deal when talking job-creation, but mirrors Democrat Jason Carter in supporting Medicaid expansion; (2) the Carter name — he’s the grandson of the 39th President/one-term Georgia governor; his grandmother, the former First Lady, has been warming up crowds on the campaign trail. The current Real Clear Politics average: Deal by 2.6% (but getting only 46.7%, thus forcing the runoff).
Kansas. In a year when a liberal President and his party could take a big hit, what would be odder than a conservative state tossing a conservative governor? And yet that might be what’s in store in Kansas, where GOP Gov. Sam Brownbeck may pace the price for having pushed too right (even for Kansas) too fast. Like Ronald Reagan in 1981, Brownback came to office and implemented an ambitious set of tax cuts meant to drive economic growth in slow-growth Kansas (dropping the top state income-tax rate by 25%, lowering sales taxes; eliminating a tax on small-business income). Like Reagan in 1982, voters aren’t happy: union money is pouring into the state to take out the Republican governor; the Republican Governors Association has pumped in $4 million in an attempt to save the seat. The current Real Clear Politics average: Democrat Paul Davis by 1%.
Michigan. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has gone from “one tough nerd” (that’s his Twitter handle) to an incumbent in one tough race. The state’s economy has improved under Snyder’s watch. His Democratic opponent, Mark Schauer, is trying to sell the argument that the state’s being left behind. The two have noticeable differences: Snyder signed off on a right-to-work law that Schauer would repeal; Snyder made pension income subject to state income taxes — Schauer would reverse that; Snyder replaced the Michigan Business Tax with a corporate income tax paid now by only about one-third of Michigan companies — Schauer hasn’t said if he’d raise business taxes or by how much. A wild-card: Snyder broke with his pro-business persona in signing a bill barring Tesla Motors from direct vehicle sales in Michigan. Election-year Vox populi, or too much pandering in Big Auto’s direction? The current Real Clear Politics average: Snyder by 2.8%.
Note the narrow margins in all four of these states — too close to tell if they indicate a Democratic trick or treat next week.
To receive emailed updates from “A Day at the Races”, go to the ”Sign Up” space on the upper righthand side of this page.