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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

Gender Equality in the US House: A State-by State Quarter-Century Report Card (1989-2014)

A study of 5,325 congressional elections finds the number of female U.S. Representatives has more than tripled over the last 25 years, but the rate at which women are elected to the chamber still varies greatly between the states.

Political Crumbs

Small Club in St. Paul

Mark Dayton is one of just three Minnesotans ever elected to three different statewide offices. Dayton, of course, had previously served as State Auditor (1991-1995) and U.S. Senator (2001-2007) before winning the governorship in 2010. At that time, he joined Republicans Edward Thye and J.A.A. Burnquist on this very short list. Burnquist was elected lieutenant governor in 1914 but then became governor after the death of Democrat Winfield Hammond in 1915. He then won the gubernatorial elections of 1916 and 1918 and eight terms as attorney general two decades later (1939-1955). Thye was similarly first elected lieutenant governor of the Gopher State and became governor after the resignation of fellow GOPer Harold Stasson in 1943. Thye won one additional full term as governor in 1944 and then two terms to the U.S. Senate (1947-1959). Twenty Minnesotans have been elected to two different statewide offices.


Respect Your Elders?

With retirement announcements this year by veteran U.S. Representatives such as 30-term Democrat John Dingell of Michigan, 20-term Democrat George Miller of California, and 18-term Republican Tom Petri of Wisconsin, it is no surprise that retirees from the 113th Congress are one of the most experienced cohorts in recent decades. Overall, these 24 exiting members of the House have served an average of 11.0 terms - the second longest tenure among retirees across the last 18 cycles since 1980. Only the U.S. Representatives retiring in 2006 had more experience, averaging 11.9 terms. (In that cycle, 10 of the 11 retiring members served at least 10 terms, with GOPer Bill Jenkins of Tennessee the lone exception at just five). Even without the aforementioned Dingell, the average length of service in the chamber of the remaining 23 retirees in 2014 is 10.2 terms - which would still be the third highest since 1980 behind the 2006 and 2012 (10.5 terms) cycles.


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