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Can Rob McKenna End the Nation's Longest GOP Gubernatorial Election Drought?

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It has been 32 years since voters in Washington State elected a Republican governor - the longest GOP dry spell in any state

robmckenna10.jpgWhile only 11 gubernatorial elections will be held this November, Republicans are aiming to increase their 29 to 20 seat advantage they currently hold over the Democratic Party.

To do so, Republicans will likely need to carry states where the Party has failed to claim victory for a decade or more.

One of the most promising races for the GOP is in Washington, where State Attorney General Rob McKenna has been polling slightly ahead of former U.S. Representative Jay Inslee for most of the spring.

A newly released survey by Public Policy Polling shows McKenna with a three-point edge over Inslee among likely voters.

But while Washington is not the deepest of blue states across the country, it has been quite a long time since Republicans have captured the Evergreen State's highest elected office.

How long?

Jimmy Carter was president.

A Smart Politics review of gubernatorial election data finds the State of Washington holds the longest Republican gubernatorial dry spell in the nation at 32 years, and is tied for the second longest drought for either major party in the country.

The last victory for the GOP in Washington came in the Election of 1980 when John Spellman defeated Democrat Jim McDermott by 13.4 points with 56.7 percent of the vote.

Spellman had lost his gubernatorial bid four years prior to Dixy Lee Ray who lost the 1980 Democratic nomination to McDermott.

Governor Spellman was then defeated in his reelection campaign in 1984 in the first of seven consecutive losses by the Republicans in Washington gubernatorial contests.

The decades-long dominance by the Democratic Party was met with some fairly close calls and competitive races, however, such as the Elections of 1984 (with Governor Spellman losing by 6.6 points), 1992 (Kenneth Eikenberry, by 4.3 points), 2004 (Dino Rossi falling 129 votes short in a controversial recount), and 2008 (Rossi, by 6.5 points).

Interspersed were Democratic blowout victories in the Elections of 1988 (with Bob Williams losing by 24.4 points), 1996 (Ellen Craswell, by 15.9 points), and 2000 (John Carlson, by 18.7 points).

The 32-year GOP drought in Washington is second only to the Democratic Party dry spell in South Dakota for the longest losing streak by either major party across the country.

It has been 38 years since the last time a Democratic governor was elected in the Mount Rushmore State - Richard Kneip in 1974.

Democrats also have a 32-year drought in Utah where its last successful gubernatorial candidate was Scott Matheson, Sr. in 1980.

In the 2012 cycle, Republicans will also attempt to end five-cycle losing streaks in Delaware and North Carolina, where the party last won in 1988 with Mike Castle and Jim Martin respectively.

It has also been a decade or more since Republicans last won in West Virginia (1996, Cecil Underwood), Montana (2000, Judy Martz), and New Hampshire (2002, Craig Benson) - all states with gubernatorial races this November.

The second longest Republican losing streak in the country is in Oregon, where John Kitzhaber won a close contest in 2010.

The last Republican elected governor in the Beaver State was Victor Atiyeh in 1982 some 30 years ago.

Like in neighboring Washington, Republicans have lost the last seven races in Oregon.

Washington will hold its qualifying primary on August 7th, in which the top two candidates move on to the general election - regardless of party affiliation.

McKenna and Inslee are expected to easily grab the top two slots.

Democrats have won 17 of 31 Washington gubernatorial elections since statehood, including a victory by Fusion candidate John Rogers in 1896.

Longest Republican Gubernatorial Election Droughts by State

Rank
State
Governor
Elected
Years
Losing streak
1
Washington
John Spellman
1980
32
7
2
Oregon
Victor Atiyeh
1982
30
7
3
Delaware
Mike Castle
1988
24
5
3
North Carolina
Jim Martin
1988
24
5
5
West Virginia
Cecil Underwood
1996
16
4
6
Illinois
George Ryan
1998
14
3
7
Montana
Judy Martz
2000
12
2
8
New Hampshire
Craig Benson
2002
10
4
8
Arkansas
Mike Huckabee
2002
10
2
8
Colorado
Bill Owens
2002
10
2
8
Maryland
Bob Ehrlich
2002
10
2
8
Massachusetts
Mitt Romney
2002
10
2
8
New York
George Pataki
2002
10
2
14
Kentucky
Ernie Fletcher
2003
9
2
15
Missouri
Matt Blunt
2004
8
1
16
California
Arnold Schwarznegger
2006
6
1
16
Connecticut
Jodi Rell
2006
6
1
16
Hawaii
Linda Lingle
2006
6
1
16
Minnesota
Tim Pawlenty
2006
6
1
16
Rhode Island
Don Carcieri
2006
6
1
21
Vermont
Jim Douglas
2008
4
1
Table 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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