RGA’s underwhelming gains

RGA’S UNDERWHELMING GAINS…. In U.S. House races, Republicans not only reclaimed the House majority, but they exceeded most expectations with a net gain of 60 (and counting). Senate wins weren’t quite as impressive — the GOP gained six seats, which was below expectations, not especially historic, and far short of what was needed for a majority.

But what about the governors’ races? Going into Tuesday, this was supposed to be a breakout year for Republican gubernatorial candidates — the RGA had effectively replaced the RNC as a fundraising powerhouse, and chairman Haley Barbour of Mississippi intended to dazzle the political world with huge wins. Larry Sabato projected the party’s net gains could go as high as nine.

Like the Senate contests, the party seems to have under-performed in the gubernatorial races, too. Dave Weigel notes that the victory in Florida was “huge” — I still can’t wrap my head around the notion of electing a criminal to run a large state — but the rest of the cycle proved underwhelming for the Republican Governors Association.

Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wyoming were expected to be Republican wins ever since the cycle began. In Iowa, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, Republicans led consistently in polling all year. Only Florida, Maine, New Mexico, Ohio and Wisconsin were vaguely heavy carries. Those are huge wins for 2012, and some are important for redistricting.

But look at what the Democrats won. The very flawed Mark Dayton is likely to keep his lead in Minnesota. Pat Quinn — Rod Blagojevich’s lieutenant governor! — won in Illinois. Deval Patrick survived in Massachusetts, despite being seen for a long time as a failure who presaged the Obama disappointment, and John Kitzhaber pipped rising star Chris Dudley in Oregon. Colorado, Maryland, and New York were Republican disasters, and the RGA’s investment in Hawaii looks fairly weird after a 17-point drubbing.

In 1994, the GOP netted 12 governorships. This year it netted 5, and outside — arguably — of Florida, I don’t see any upsets.

I’d just add, by the way, that the Florida win may not even matter too much when it comes to redistricting, since Floridians also easily approved a measure that would bring some sanity to the line-drawing process, and make Gov.-elect Rick Scott’s (R) role far less significant.

To be sure, Republican gubernatorial candidates generally had a fine year, and will once again have a majority of the nation’s governors’ offices in 2011. But in light of the “wave” and what was expected of Barbour, I wouldn’t be surprised if the RGA, like the NRSC, is wondering why it didn’t have a better cycle.

Update: I received a note from University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, which suggests Republicans had a net gain of six, not five, because Florida went from an independent governor to a GOP governor. It’s not an unreasonable point, but I’ve been operating under the +5 assumption because Floridians elected a Republican governor, then elected a different Republican governor, so the seat didn’t “change hands” in the traditional sense. Still, it’s a fair argument, so I’m passing it along for readers to consider.