Republicans governors are touting themselves as the antidote to a broken Washington as they try to restore the GOP’s image, but there may be a bigger hurdle for many of them – holding onto their seats in the 2014 midterms.
GOP governors are gathering this week in Scottsdale, Ariz., at the Republican Governors Association’s two-day annual conference. Top of mind for many of the attendees: Defending 22 of the 36 governorships up next year – 14 of which are open or competitive for Republicans.
Coming four years after the GOP wave of 2010, the task is even more daunting in what’s likely to be a less-friendly year. And those 2010 victories didn’t necessarily translate into 2012 successes for Republicans either – nine of those 14 Republican governors come from states that Obama won in last year’s presidential election.
According to The Daily Rundown’’s new gubernatorial rankings, these are the seven most vulnerable GOP-held seats. Many of the governors were swept into office thanks to a Tea Party-friendly climate nearly four years ago:
1. Pennsylvania (Gov. Tom Corbett) – The Keystone State governor has been plagued with sagging approval and re-election numbers, but his own self-inflicted comments certainly aren’t helping his chances in this state Obama won last year. Just last month, he had to apologize for comparing gay marriage to incest.
2. Maine (Gov. Paul LePage) – Another Republican with a penchant for controversial statements, LePage won in 2010 thanks to a three-way contest. Democrats want to prevent that from happening again. Even though Independent Eliot Cutler is running again, they hope Rep. Michael Michaud can topple LePage.
3. Florida (Gov. Rick Scott) –This Sunshine State battle will be the marquee contest in 2014, pitting Republican Rick Scott – who has pledged to spend upwards of $25 million on the race – against party-switching former Gov. Charlie Crist, who’s now running as a Democrat.
4. Michigan (Gov. Rick Snyder) – The fact that Snyder was already running re-election ads in September, returning to his “one tough nerd” roots, tells you how competitive this contest with former Rep. Mark Schauer is expected to be.
5. Ohio (Gov. John Kasich) – Kasich was one GOP governor in a tough campaign who accepted Medicaid expansion money, but will it be enough to defeat Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald?
6. Wisconsin (Gov. Scott Walker) – Walker already survived one recall attempt last June, but Democrats are hoping former Trek Bicycle executive Mary Burke will fair better and crush any 2016 dreams Walker might have.
7. South Carolina (Haley) – In such a solidly red state, Haley’s name may seem like an odd inclusion, but it’s often overlooked that she only narrowly beat Democrat Vincent Sheheen in a very favorable climate in 2010. Now, he’s back for a rematch, and Haley’s approval ratings have suffered in the state data breach.
Democrats have seats and incumbents they have to be worried about, too – and in some surprising places. Here are the seven most vulnerable Democratic-held governorships:
1. Arkansas (Gov. Mike Beebe, open) – Beebe is a political anomaly – a popular Democratic governor in the South who skated to re-election in 2010. With Beebe term-limited, though, 2014 will be much tougher as former blue dog Rep. Mike Ross tries to hold onto the seat over likely the GOP nominee, former Rep. Asa Hutchinson. Ross has put together a strong campaign that has bested Hutchinson in money, but with Republicans heavily targeting Sen. Mark Pryor, too, the climate in the Razorback State could be too much for both Democrats to overcome.
2. Colorado (Gov. John Hickenlooper) – After championing new gun control laws, Hickenlooper has seen his numbers fall in the state. His saving grace may be that the GOP field is very fractured.
3. Illinois (Gov. Pat Quinn) – The most amazing thing in the Land of Lincoln may be that Quinn looks to avoid a primary challenge after both former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and Attorney General Lisa Madigan passed on taking on the vulnerable governor. With Quinn’s unpopularity, holding the seat for Democrats becomes harder, but the GOP field is very volatile and unsettled.
4. Massachusetts (Gov. Deval Patrick, open) – Even after an infamously bad Senate special election, Attorney General Martha Coakley looks like the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination if she can keep together a strong campaign. Republicans believe 2010 nominee Charlie Baker, who came close last time, is stronger this time around and especially poised to take advantage of any Democratic missteps.
5. Connecticut (Gov. Dannel Malloy) – Malloy only narrowly won in 2010 and the GOP nominee then, former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley, is running again. But with a likely better environment, Malloy’s chances improve, and it’s a harder climb for Foley.
6. New Hampshire (Gov. Maggie Hassan) – Running every two years, Hassan is on the list because New Hampshire is still a swing state and will host competitive Senate and House races next year. But Republicans don’t have a strong challenger here.
7. Rhode Island (Gov. Lincoln Chafee, open) – After incumbent Gov. Lincoln Chafee switched from Independent to Democrat, chances of holding this seat got a lot better – but they improved even more when Chafee decided not to run again. There’s a competitive primary, but whoever emerges is the favorite to hold the seat.
NBC’s Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Sarah Blackwill contributed to this report.