2014 Gubernatorial Landscape: GOPers Not Exactly Kicking Out the Jams

As most of the chattering class continues to meditate ponderously on Margaret Thatcher’s legacy today, here’s some eye candy for political junkies: at FiveThirtyEight, Micah Cohen looks at the job approval ratings of governors up for re-election in 2014. Here’s the main takeaway:

The two most unpopular governors up for re-election in 2014 are Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, an independent, and Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois, a Democrat. But the remaining eight governors with net negative job approval ratings are Republicans, including four who rode the Tea Party wave to power in blue and purple states in 2010 and now appear to be in some danger: Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, Gov. Paul LePage of Maine and Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan.

The other four GOP chief executives in net negative job approval territory are Sam Brownback (KS), Nathan Deal (GA), Nikki Haley (SC) and Rick Perry (TX). None have made definitive statements about their 2014 plans, though only Perry has been widely rumored to be considering retirement.

Brownback is an interesting case. Best known for his theocratic tendencies, the former senator’s getting battered in Kansas polls in no small part because his proposal to phase out the state’s income tax (in part by cancelling a scheduled reduction in the state sales tax) is about as popular as Bobby Jindal’s parallel plan in Louisiana. With Jindal having withdrawn his proposal just yesterday, and Brownback facing stiff bipartisan resistance in the Kansas legislature, things aren’t looking good for the national conservative campaign to stampede states into a race-to-the-bottom with such alleged job-creator paradises as Texas.

As for the other less-than-wildly-popular GOP governors in red states:

* There are consistent rumors of a primary challenge to Nathan Deal, who is tied to a new Atlanta stadium deal that’s very unpopular outside metro Atlanta. Georgia Democrats, already being awakened from their slumber by the wingnut hoedown going on in the GOP primary to replace Sen. Saxby Chambliss, might find themselves a viable gubernatorial candidate while they are at it.

* Nikki Haley barely defeated Democrat Vincent Sheheen in the GOP wonderland of 2010; a PPP survey late last year showed Sheheen ahead in a potential rematch.

* And Rick Perry, of course, is in his customary position of heading into a re-elect year with sagging popularity. He may, however, pass up the prospect of a fourth full term (he succeeded to the governorship in 2001 when the U.S. Supreme Court lifted George W. Bush to the presidency) and instead see if he can improve on his disastrous 2012 presidential campaign, which wouldn’t be hard.

What makes all these developments especially interesting is that 2014 ought to be a fine year for the GOP nationally, what with the return of a midterm electorate that skews heavily in their direction, compounded by the historical pattern of poor performance by the party controlling the White House in second-term midterms (1998 being the sole exception). It may still wind up that way, but despite the enduring CW about “pragmatic” GOP governors being the salvation of their party, as a group they are not exactly kicking out the jams when it comes to the approbation of their constituents.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.