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CT, IL, MN Gubernatorial Races: From 2010 Nail-Biters to 2014 Snoozers?

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Since 1900, there have been 18 candidates elected governor by less than one percentage point who won reelection the next cycle by double-digits; could Dan Malloy, Mark Dayton, and Pat Quinn do the same in 2014?

danmalloy10.jpgMark Dayton finally got a Republican challenger Wednesday with the candidacy announcement of investment banker Scott Honour - some two years, five months, and 22 days since Dayton defeated Tom Emmer in the nation's most closely contested gubernatorial race of the 2010 cycle.

Smart Politics recently wrote of the big incumbency advantage Minnesota governors have enjoyed across state history, although less so among the comparatively few Democratic incumbents that have served the state over the decades.

Dayton, who defeated Emmer by 0.4 points in 2010, is one of three Democratic incumbents running in 2014 who got into office during the Republican tsunami of 2010 with victory margins of less than one percentage point - along with Connecticut's Dan Malloy (beating Tom Foley by 0.6 points) and Illinois' Pat Quinn (defeating Bill Brady by 0.9 points).

Dayton, Malloy, and Quinn are rated as favored to heavily favored to win reelection in 2014 by most prognosticators despite these aforementioned close shaves last cycle. (Provided Quinn receives his party's nomination, that is).

But is there reason to think Republicans, who came so close to winning these seats in 2010 could be blown out in one or more of these races four years later?

History says yes.

A Smart Politics analysis of over 1,800 gubernatorial elections conducted since 1900 finds that governors who were elected by less than one point have come back the next cycle to win by double-digits 18 times, including 10 times over the last 30 years.

It has already happened in Minnesota and Connecticut during this span.

Nearly 60 years ago in Connecticut, Democrat Abraham Ribicoff defeated GOP incumbent John Lodge by 0.3 points in 1954 and then trounced challenger Fred Zeller by 25.3 points four years later in 1958.

In Minnesota, Republican Samuel Van Sant defeated Democratic incumbent John Lind by 0.7 points in 1900, and then returned two years later to soundly defeat challenger Leonard Rosing by 20.7 points.

It also happened to Franklin Roosevelt in New York.

Roosevelt defeated Albert Ottinger in 1928 by 0.6 points and then crushed Republican Charles Tuttle by 23.1 points in his reelection bid two years later.

It happened most recently in the 2006 cycle in two states: Alabama and Oklahoma.

In Alabama, Republican Bob Riley defeated Lucy Baxley by 15.9 points four years after knocking off Democratic incumbent Don Siegelman by a mere 0.2 points

In Oklahoma, Democrat Brad Henry edged out Steve Largent by 0.7 points in 2002 in a competitive three-candidate race and then cruised to a 33-point reelection win over Ernest Istook in 2006.

It has also happened to some of the longest serving governors in U.S. history:

· Democrat Cecil Andrus of Idaho (#11 all time): Winning by 0.9 points in 1986 and 36.4 points in 1990.

· Republican James Thompson of Illinois (#13): Winning by 0.1 point in 1982 and 12.7 points in 1986.

· Democrat Soapy Williams of Michigan (#24): Winning by 0.3 points in 1952 and 11.6 points in 1954.

· Republican John Engler of Michigan (#24): Winning by 0.7 points in 1990 and 23.0 points in 1994.

· Democrat William Guy of North Dakota (#39): Winning by 0.9 points in 1962 and 11.5 points in 1964.

And which of the three Democratic governors who eked out victories in 2010 is most likely to be added to this list?

The odds on favorite is Dayton, unless a big name Republican is lured into the race in the coming months, such as John Kline or Erik Paulsen. (Unlikely prospects both).

In Connecticut, one could expect a tighter race as Tom Foley has expressed his intention to seek a rematch against Malloy. However, without the national GOP winds at his back it may be difficult for Foley to generate another nail-biter finish this cycle.

In Illinois, things are murkier as a legitimate Democratic primary challenge of Governor Quinn (such as by State Attorney General Lisa Madigan) adds a wrinkle that does not exist in Minnesota or Connecticut where the incumbent governors are certain to win their party's nomination.

Gubernatorial Candidates Who Followed up < 1 Point Victories with Double-Digit Wins

State
Governor
Party
Cycle 1
MoV
Cycle 2
MoV
Minnesota
Samuel Van Sant
Republican
1900
0.7
1902
20.7
Maryland
Albert Ritchie
Democrat
1919
0.1
1923
12.7
New York
Franklin Roosevelt
Democrat
1928
0.6
1930
23.1
Kansas
Payne Ratner
Republican
1940
0.1
1942
14.9
Michigan
Soapy Williams
Democrat
1952
0.3
1954
11.6
Connecticut
Abraham Ribicoff
Democrat
1954
0.3
1958
25.3
Rhode Island
John Chafee
Republican
1962
0.1
1964
22.3
North Dakota
William Guy
Democrat
1962
0.9
1964
11.5
New Jersey
Thomas Kean
Republican
1981
0.1
1985
40.3
Illinois
James Thompson
Republican
1982
0.1
1986
12.7
Idaho
Cecil Andrus
Democrat
1986
0.9
1990
36.4
Nebraska
Ben Nelson
Democrat
1990
0.7
1994
47.5
Michigan
John Engler
Republican
1990
0.7
1994
23.0
Alaska
Tony Knowles
Democrat
1994
0.2
1998
33.0
Maryland
Parris Glendening
Democrat
1994
0.4
1998
10.3
Colorado
Bill Owens
Republican
1998
0.6
2002
29.0
Oklahoma
Brad Henry
Democrat
2002
0.7
2006
33.0
Alabama
Bob Riley
Republican
2002
0.2
2006
15.9
Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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1 Comment


  • Pat Quinn is one of the most unpopular governors in America. I find it almost impossible to believe that he would win re-election against any Republican - even a crazy one (or is that redundant?).

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