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Democratic Gubernatorial Drought in Minnesota Is 3rd Longest in the Nation

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Politically schizophrenic Gopher State's 23-year dry spell without a DFL gubernatorial victory trails only GOP strongholds of South Dakota and Utah for longest in the U.S.

The first substantive chatter about Governor Tim Pawlenty's presidential prospects began in earnest after the 2006 election, when Pawlenty impressed national observers by being one of the few vulnerable Republicans to stave off defeat during the Democratic tsunami that November.

Analysts (and DFL loyalists) have offered a number of theories to explain Pawlenty's '06 victory, such as DFLer Mike Hatch's perceived implosion during the last few days of his campaign, Independence Party nominee Peter Hutchinson's arguably siphoning off 'Democratic votes' from Hatch's column, and Governor Pawlenty's own political moxy.

Whatever the reason for Pawlenty's survival, the GOP's victory in 2006 extended by four more years a Democratic drought in gubernatorial contests in Minnesota that a Smart Politics analysis has found to be tied for the third longest in the nation.

The current 23-year drought endured by the DFL since Rudy Perpich was elected Governor of Minnesota in 1986 is eclipsed only by the Democratic dry spells in the conservative states of South Dakota (35 years, 1974) and Utah (29 years, 1980).

Connecticut is tied with the Gopher State for third, with its most recent Democratic governor, William O'Neill, also last elected in 1986.

The fact that the Democratic Party's struggle to gain control of the governor's mansion in Minnesota is being mentioned in the same breath with states like Utah and South Dakota highlights the schizophrenic nature of politics in the Gopher State - Minnesota also has the current longest streak across the 50 states in casting its electoral votes for the Democratic presidential nominee (nine contests, dating back to 1976).

But the DFL now finds itself in the same company with its Democratic brethren in the neighboring red states of South Dakota and North Dakota.

Together these states comprise three of the top five longest streaks in the country for gubernatorial elections without a Democratic winner (79 years collectively).

North Dakota has not elected a Democrat to its governor's mansion since George Sinner in 1988.

And of the seven states in the nation with the longest Democratic gubernatorial droughts, only Minnesota and Connecticut voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential contest. John McCain carried South Dakota by 8.4 points, Utah by 28.0 points, North Dakota by 8.7 points, Idaho by 25.3 points, and Texas by 11.8 points.

Number of Years Since Democratic Party Last Won Gubernatorial Election by State

Rank
State
Governor
Elected
Years
1
South Dakota
Richard F. Kneip
1974
35
2
Utah
Scott Milne Matheson
1980
29
3
Minnesota
Rudy Perpich
1986
23
3
Connecticut
William O'Neill
1986
23
5
North Dakota
George Sinner
1988
21
6
Idaho
Cecil D. Andrus
1990
19
6
Texas
Ann Richards
1990
19
8
Rhode Island
Bruce Sundlun
1992
17
9
Florida
Lawton Chiles
1994
15
9
Nebraska
Ben Nelson
1994
15
9
Nevada
Bob Miller
1994
15
12
Alabama
Don Siegelman
1998
11
12
Alaska
Tony Knowles
1998
11
12
Georgia
Roy Barnes
1998
11
12
Hawaii
Ben Cayetano
1998
11
12
South Carolina
James Hovis Hodges
1998
11
17
Mississippi
Ronnie Musgrove
1999
10
18
Indiana
Frank O'Bannon
2000
9
19
Vermont
Howard Dean
2000
9
19
California
Gray Davis
2002
7
21
Louisiana
Kathleen Blanco
2003
6
22
New Jersey
John Corzine
2005
4
22
Virginia
Tim Kaine
2005
4
24*
Arizona
Janet Napolitano
2006
3
24*
Arkansas
Mike Beebe
2006
3
24*
Colorado
Bill Ritter
2006
3
24*
Illinois
Rod Blagojevich
2006
3
24*
Iowa
Chet Culver
2006
3
24*
Kansas
Kathleen Sebelius
2006
3
24*
Maine
John Baldacci
2006
3
24*
Maryland
Martin O'Malley
2006
3
24*
Massachusetts
Deval Patrick
2006
3
24*
Michigan
Jennifer Granholm
2006
3
24*
New Mexico
Bill Richardson
2006
3
24*
New York
Eliot Spitzer
2006
3
24*
Ohio
Ted Strickland
2006
3
24*
Oklahoma
Brad Henry
2006
3
24*
Oregon
Ted Kulongoski
2006
3
24*
Pennsylvania
Ed Rendell
2006
3
24*
Tennessee
Phil Bredesen
2006
3
24*
Wisconsin
Jim Doyle
2006
3
24*
Wyoming
Dave Freudenthal
2006
3
43*
Kentucky
Steve Beshear
2007
2
44*
Delaware
Jack Markell
2008
1
44*
Missouri
Jay Nixon
2008
1
44*
Montana
Brian Schweitzer
2008
1
44*
New Hampshire
John Lynch
2008
1
44*
North Carolina
Beverly Perdue
2008
1
44*
Washington
Christine Gregoire
2008
1
44*
West Virginia
Joe Manchin
2008
1
* Denotes state in which Democratic Party won its most recent gubernatorial election. Data compiled by Smart Politics.

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Remains of the Data

No Free Passes: States With 2 Major Party Candidates in Every US House Race

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Political Crumbs

Gubernatorial Highs and Lows

Two sitting governors currently hold the record for the highest gubernatorial vote ever received in their respective states by a non-incumbent: Republican Matt Mead of Wyoming (65.7 percent in 2010) and outgoing GOPer Dave Heineman of Nebraska (73.4 percent in 2006). Republican Gary Herbert of Utah had not previously won a gubernatorial contest when he notched a state record 64.1 percent for his first victory in 2010, but was an incumbent at the time after ascending to the position in 2009 after the early departure of Jon Huntsman. Meanwhile, two sitting governors hold the record in their states for the lowest mark ever recorded by a winning gubernatorial candidate (incumbent or otherwise): independent-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (36.1 percent in 2010) and Democrat Terry McAuliffe of Virginia (47.8 percent in 2013).


An Idaho Six Pack

Two-term Idaho Republican Governor Butch Otter only polled at 39 percent in a recent PPP survey of the state's 2014 race - just four points ahead of Democratic businessman A.J. Balukoff. Otter's low numbers reflect his own struggles as a candidate (witness his weak primary win against State Senator Russ Fulcher) combined with the opportunity for disgruntled Idahoans to cast their votes for one of four third party and independent candidates, who collectively received the support of 12 percent of likely voters: Libertarian John Bujak, the Constitution Party's Steve Pankey, and independents Jill Humble and Pro-Life (aka Marvin Richardson). The six candidate options in a gubernatorial race sets an all-time record in the Gem State across the 46 elections conducted since statehood. The previous high water mark of five candidates was reached in seven previous cycles: 1902, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1914, 1966, and 2010.


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