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Rick Snyder 2014: Michigan Governors Win Reelection at 77% Rate

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Gubernatorial incumbents from Michigan are victorious more than three-fourths of the time in general election bids with Republican incumbents at more than 80%

ricksnyder10.jpgMichigan Governor Rick Snyder's high profile signing of (and change of position on) right-to-work legislation this week gave Democrats - riding high after their success in the presidential and U.S. Senate elections in November - a new-found focus for 2014.

And now, several names are being floated on the Democratic side of the ballot to challenge Snyder in less than two years, including current and former members of Congress and the Michigan Senate minority leader - prospective candidates seemingly buoyed with a concrete issue on which to run.

While Snyder and the GOP legislature's decision to make Michigan the 24th right-to-work state may have been unpopular in some quarters, it likely cemented the governor's conservative credentials to stave off any potential primary challenger.

And the electoral history of the Wolverine State has shown that incumbent governors are very difficult to unseat when they make it back onto the general election ballot.

A Smart Politics analysis of Michigan gubernatorial election data finds that incumbent governors have won 34 of 44 general elections since statehood (77.3 percent) including 10 of the last 12 since 1950.

Overall, gubernatorial incumbents have appeared on the subsequent general election ballot in 44 of 78 cycles since 1835.

Republican incumbents, like Snyder, have won 23 of 28 such elections, or 82 percent of the time.

The last Republican governor to lose at the ballot box was Kim Sigler in 1948.

After trouncing his Democrat opponent (and former governor) Murray Von Wagoner in 1946 by 21.6 points, Sigler was defeated by 7.8 points two years later by Soapy Williams.

Williams would go on to win reelection in 1950, 1952, 1954, 1956, and 1958.

Michigan governors now serve four-year terms like 47 other states across the country, and are limited to two such terms.

The only gubernatorial incumbents from Michigan to lose since the 1940s are Democrats John Swainson (who followed Williams) in 1962 and James Blanchard seeking a third term in 1990.

Victorious incumbents during this span are Republicans George Romney (1964), William Milliken (1970, 1974, 1978), and John Engler (1994, 1998) and Democrats John Swainson (1986) and Jennifer Granholm (2006).

This incumbency advantage is not a recent development in Michigan gubernatorial electoral history.

For nearly a 100-year period from statehood through the 1920s, incumbents were elected in 20 of 22 cycles in which they appeared on the general election ballot.

The only incumbents to lose during this span were Republican David Jerome in 1882 to Fusion candidate Josiah Begole, and two years later when Begole lost to Republican Russell Alger.

The one brief period in state history in which gubernatorial incumbents stumbled at the ballot box was from 1932 through 1948 when six of seven were defeated:

· 1932: Republican Wilbur Brucker lost by 11.8 points to Democrat William Comstock.

· 1936: Republican Frank Fitzgerald lost by 2.8 points to Democrat Frank Murphy.

· 1938: Murphy lost to Fitzerland in a rematch by 5.8 points.

· 1940: Republican (appointed) Governor Luren Dickenson lost by 6.5 points to Murray Von Wagoner.

· 1942: Van Wagoner lost by 5.9 points to Republican Harry Kelly. Kelly was the only incumbent to win during this span - by 9.9 points over Democrat Edward Fry.

· 1948: Republican Kim Sigler lost by 7.8 points to Democrat Soapy Williams.

But even if Democrats are able to leverage the right-to-work issue in Michigan, they should not expect a cakewalk in November 2014.

The average margin of loss for the 10 gubernatorial incumbents who did lose their seat was just 4.7 points, with five of these contests decided by less than three points and all but one by single digits.

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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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