As economic concerns continue to fuel pessimism about the near future, Democratic Governors Jim Doyle (Wisconsin) and Chet Culver (Iowa) face the lowest ratings of their gubernatorial careers. Meanwhile, Minnesota Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty has managed quite successfully to remain fairly popular with his statewide constituency.
Culver, who comes from a family of politicians, was sworn into office 15 months ago, and has seen his approval ratings fall to 45 percent in mid-March—down 14 points from 59 percent in early January 2008 (SurveyUSA) when the Iowa caucuses were being held in his state. Culver stayed above the fray and did not endorse a candidate at that time, although his wife did endorse John Edwards. (Governor Culver endorsed Barack Obama a month later).
Doyle (who also has endorsed Obama), meanwhile, has never been a popular governor in the Badger State, winning close elections in both 2002 (3.7 points) and 2006 (7.4 points). The polling firm SurveyUSA has found Doyle to boast an approval rating of above 50 percent in just 2 of its 34 consecutive monthly polls dating back to May 2005. The firm recently measured Doyle's approval rating at an abysmal 39 percent, just one month after being re-elected, in December 2007. Rasmussen's late March poll of likely Wisconsin voters found only 33 percent considered Doyle to be doing an "excellent" or "good" job—another all-time low for the Democratic governor.
Tim Pawlenty, meanwhile, continues to remain relatively popular with Minnesotans, despite the state's recent history of voting Democratic in the majority of statewide and district races. Pawlenty seems to have gained favor with the state by adhering to his strong anti-tax stance (which resulted in a veto override recently by the state legislature). Pawlenty's latest approval rating numbers show him hovering at just above 50 percent (51 percent in mid-March), and the GOP governor has dipped below that mark just 5 times in 34 consecutive monthly polls by SurveyUSA. The trend line does show some concern for the Governor, however: 59 percent approval in August 2007, 57 percent in September and November, 56 percent in December 2007 and January 2008, 52 percent in February, and 51 percent in March.
None of these Upper Midwestern Governors are up for re-election in 2008, though their relative popularity or unpopularity could impact the presidential races in these battleground states at the margins.