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Study: Governors Have No Pull Helping Presidential Nominees Carry Their State

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States have voted more frequently for a presidential nominee of a different party than its sitting governor across 600 contests since 1968; even more so in battleground states

scottwalker11.jpgWith the 2012 election just now appearing in the rear view mirror, campaign coverage has already begun to ramp up for the 2014 cycle - particularly in the dozens of gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races.

But before a bow is put on 2012 - and as a warning shot for those who might read too much into last November's results - Smart Politics takes a moment to highlight one of the ways the media went awry after 2010.

After the Republican tsunami two years ago, numerous broadcast media anchors and analysts stated on air that the GOP gubernatorial pick-ups in several key battleground states would pose a problem for Barack Obama's reelection campaign in 2012.

Purple states such as Florida, Iowa, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin all saw Republicans pick-up open seats or knock off Democratic or independent incumbents.

Media anchors, hosts, and analysts such as John King (CNN), Bret Baier (FOX), Joe Trippi (FOX), Gloria Borger (CNN), and Kirsten Powers (FOX) all remarked at the advantage Republicans would receive in the 2012 presidential race as a result of these gubernatorial victories, and the barriers it would place for an Obama reelection victory.

Smart Politics issued a study that challenged these statements and, 24 months before the 2012 election, projected that Barack Obama's reelection fate in no way hinged on which party controlled the governor's mansion in these battleground states.

The study showed there was no correlation between presidential victories in a state and the party of that state's governor over the past 11 presidential election cycles dating back to 1968.

And while the Republican gubernatorial (and state legislative) success stories during the 2010 election cycle may have enabled the GOP to craft more favorable district lines for 2012 legislative races, the impact on which presidential nominee carried these swing states was, once again, non-existent.

Obama did not lose any of the battleground states in which Democrats fell flat in gubernatorial races two years ago.

In fact, almost all of the closest races in the country saw a presidential nominee carry a state with a governor in office from the opposite party - including all seven key GOP gubernatorial pickups in 2010.

Of the 16 states decided by single digits in 2012, 11 voted for the presidential nominee of a party other than its sitting governor, including each of the five states with the narrowest margin of victory.

Florida (#1), Ohio (#2), Virginia (#4), Pennsylvania (#5), Iowa (#8), Nevada (#9), Wisconsin (#10), Michigan (#14), and New Mexico (#16) were all states with Republican governors carried by Barack Obama by single digits.

Meanwhile, North Carolina (#3) and Missouri (#14) have Democratic governors and voted for Mitt Romney.

The only competitive contests in which the state voted for a presidential nominee of the same party as its governor were Colorado (#6), New Hampshire (#7), Minnesota (#11), Georgia (#12), and Arizona (#13).

Overall, across the 600 statewide presidential contests conducted during the 12 election cycles since 1968, states have now voted for a presidential candidate from a different political party than its reigning governor 301 times, or 50.2 percent.

Democratic presidential candidates have won virtually an identical percentage of states in which they have held control of the governor's mansion (36.1 percent) as those in which Republicans had control (32.9 percent).

Meanwhile, Republicans have won 66.8 percent of states with a GOP governor and 63.0 percent of those with a Democratic governor.

Keep in mind - this data includes not simply battleground states, but all states.

The historical data is even more stark for the 12 most commonly cited battlegrounds of the 2012 cycle: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

These states have voted for a presidential nominee from a different party than its sitting governor in 78 of 144 instances since 1968, or 54.2 percent of the time, including at least half of the time in North Carolina (75 percent), Minnesota (67 percent), Michigan (58 percent), Ohio (58 percent), Wisconsin (58 percent), Iowa (50 percent), Nevada (50 percent), New Hampshire (50 percent), Pennsylvania (50 percent), and Virginia (50 percent).

And so, in short, if Democrats should pick up the governor's mansion in many of these states in 2014, that fact, in and of itself, is no reason to believe the Party's 2016 nominee is going to have a measurably easier time winning these swing states.

Presidential Vote and Party of Sitting Governor by State, 1968-2012

State
Different
Same
% Different
Connecticut
9
3
75.0
North Carolina
9
3
75.0
Rhode Island
9
3
75.0
Arkansas
8
4
66.7
Maine
8
4
66.7
Massachusetts
8
4
66.7
Minnesota
8
4
66.7
Missouri
8
4
66.7
Montana
8
4
66.7
New Mexico
8
4
66.7
Arizona
7
5
58.3
Kansas
7
5
58.3
Kentucky
7
5
58.3
Michigan
7
5
58.3
Ohio
7
5
58.3
Oklahoma
7
5
58.3
Wisconsin
7
5
58.3
Wyoming
7
5
58.3
Alaska
6
6
50.0
California
6
6
50.0
Georgia
6
6
50.0
Idaho
6
6
50.0
Indiana
6
6
50.0
Iowa
6
6
50.0
Louisiana
6
6
50.0
Mississippi
6
6
50.0
Nevada
6
6
50.0
New Hampshire
6
6
50.0
New Jersey
6
6
50.0
New York
6
6
50.0
North Dakota
6
6
50.0
Pennsylvania
6
6
50.0
South Carolina
6
6
50.0
Virginia
6
6
50.0
West Virginia
6
6
50.0
Alabama
5
7
41.7
Colorado
5
7
41.7
Florida
5
7
41.7
Hawaii
5
7
41.7
Illinois
5
7
41.7
Maryland
5
7
41.7
Nebraska
5
7
41.7
Tennessee
5
7
41.7
Utah
5
7
41.7
Vermont
5
7
41.7
Texas
3
9
25.0
Delaware
2
10
16.7
South Dakota
2
10
16.7
Washington
2
10
16.7
Oregon
1
11
8.3
Total
301
299
50.2
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

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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