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Why Minnesota Democrats Should Be Thankful Tim Pawlenty Is Not Running for Reelection

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Republican gubernatorial incumbents in Minnesota have won 93 percent of reelection defenses since statehood (25 of 27), while losing 70 percent of open seat contests over the past century

While most renowned political prognosticators currently list the 2010 Minnesota gubernatorial matchup in the 'toss-up' category (e.g. Charlie Cook, Stu Rothenberg, Larry Sabato), the DFL will be fighting more than the changing national political environment in its attempt to recapture the governorship this November - it will also be fighting history.

In recent weeks, Smart Politics has documented that Minnesota currently has the third longest Democratic gubernatorial drought in the nation (23+ years), behind only South Dakota and Utah, and that Democrats have had historical difficulties in winning gubernatorial elections in Minnesota with a Democrat in the White House - losing 22 of 25 such races since statehood.

However, there is one historical trend that can buoy the DFL's spirits in the run up to the 2010 election - and it all starts with Tim Pawlenty's decision to not seek reelection last June.

A Smart Politics analysis of Minnesota elections finds that the GOP has not held an open gubernatorial seat since 1946 and has lost four of the last five such contests since 1930 and seven of the last ten dating back to 1898.

Republicans most recently lost their hold on the Minnesota governor's mansion in the following open seat races:

· In 1998, after Arne Carlson's exit (with Reform Party nominee Jesse Ventura beating Norm Coleman by 2.7 points).
· In 1982, after Al Quie's 1-term reign in St. Paul (with DFLer Rudy Perpich defeating Wheelock Whitney).
· And in 1970, after Harold LeVander opted not to seek reelection (with DFLer Wendell Anderson subsequently beating Douglas Head by 8.5 points).

After nine consecutive successful defenses of open gubernatorial seats from the 1860s to the 1890s (in 1863, 1865, 1869, 1873, 1875, 1881, 1886, 1888, and 1892), the GOP lost control of the Governor's mansion to the Democrats in its next three such open seat races, in 1898, 1904, and 1914. Republicans also lost their hold on the governorship in an open seat race in 1930 to the Farmer-Labor Party (Floyd Olson).

The last time the Republican Party held an open gubernatorial seat in Minnesota was back in 1946 when Luther Youngdahl won the first of his three terms after GOP Governor Edward Thye decided to seek (and won) the U.S. Senate seat that year.

In a statistical oddity, while the GOP has 12 victories and 7 defeats overall in defending open gubernatorial seats, the Democratic Party (and DFL) has only had only one opportunity to do so - in 1859, after the state's first Governor, Democrat Henry Sibley, did not seek reelection.

Every other Democratic or DFL governor has been on the ballot in the subsequent election cycle - with the Party winning six contests (1906, 1908, 1956, 1958, 1974, 1986) and losing five (1900, 1960, 1966, 1978, 1990).

Defending open seats, of course, is nearly always more difficult for a political party than seeing an incumbent candidate reelected. Overall, political parties in Minnesota have successfully defended open gubernatorial seats in just 59.1 percent of elections (13 of 22), while winning 80.5 percent of such contests with incumbents running on the ballot (33 of 41).

And here is why Democrats should be especially relieved Governor Tim Pawlenty is not seeking a third term.

Republican incumbents in Minnesota gubernatorial elections have a nearly unblemished record - with GOP governors winning reelection in 25 of 27 such contests since statehood (92.6 percent), culminating in Pawlenty's 1.0 point victory during the Democratic tsunami of 2006.

By contrast, DFL (and formerly Democratic Party) governors have won only 6 of 11 reelection bids in Gopher State history (54.5 percent). Third party incumbents are 2 for 3.

Additionally, Republicans have also enjoyed much larger margins of victory, and much smaller margins of defeat, with gubernatorial incumbents on the ballot. In their 25 victories with incumbents, the average margin of victory for the GOP has been 16.0 points. In defending open seats, their average margin of victory has been 26.3 percent smaller - at 11.8 points.

In the seven cases in which Democrats have taken back the governor's mansion from Republicans in open seat races, the GOP's average margin of defeat has been 9.6 points. In the two cases in which GOP incumbents were defeated (in 1954 and 1962) the average margin of defeat was just 3.0 points.

Republican Party Defense of Gubernatorial Seats in Minnesota with Incumbents vs. Non-Incumbents

Status
Win
Loss
MoV
MoD
Incumbents
25
2
16.0
-3.0
Open seats
12
7
11.8
-9.6
Note: some incumbents came into office as Lieutenant Governor after resignation or death of the Governor. Data compiled by Smart Politics.

So while national politics is currently boosting the standing of many Republican candidates across the country, Democrats in Minnesota should be thankful they will be running against Candidate X in November, and not a two-term Governor whose approval rating was 53 percent in a mid-January Rasmussen poll.

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Previous post: Minnesota GOP Caucus Gubernatorial Straw Poll Voter Turnout Up Over 20 Percent from 2002
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Remains of the Data

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

Indiana has now placed candidates from both major parties on the ballot in a nation-best 189 consecutive U.S. House races, with New Hampshire, Minnesota, Idaho, and Montana also north of 100 in a row.

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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