Gubernatorial Anti-Incumbent Wave?

One of the less persuasive memes of the campaign cycle has been the hoary if never very credible idea of a bipartisan anti-incumbent wave, which pops up every time political institutions are as universally unpopular as they are today.

But having said that, there is some reason to believe that highly-visible state-level incumbents–i.e., governors–could be vulnerable regardless of national partisan trends if their records are unpopular. And accordingly, there are an unusually high number of vulnerable incumbent governor’s going into November.

A Politico piece on the subject by James Hohmann suggests that “as many as a dozen” governors are “fighting for their political lives.” Looking at the Cook Political Report ratings, Jennifer Duffy has three Democrats and seven Republicans in supreme peril, with one Democratic incumbent having already lost in a primary (Hawaii’s Neil Abercrombie), and two open Democratic seats (in Arkansas and Massachusetts) being tossups. Duffy does not show Alaska’s Sean Parnell in any serious trouble, but that could change given two recent polls showing that Republican governor trailing independent Bill Walker.

Going into the cycle the buzz in gubernatorial races focused on Republicans running for re-election in blue states. That’s still the big factor affecting vulnerable GOP incumbents in FL, ME, MI, PA and WI. But the surprise is how many gubernatorial seats are vulnerable in states where the governor is in the same party that carried them in 2008 and 2012: five Democratic seats (CO, CT, HI, IL, MA) and three Republican seats (AK, GA and KS, and you could perhaps add AZ). So bad or at least unpopular governing matters, and/or candidate quality matters. In any event, there could be a lot of turnover in November, and possibly at least one overtime event (a Georgia gubernatorial runoff in December).

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.