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Which States Have the Highest Gubernatorial Reelection Rates?

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Six states have not seen a governor lose a reelection bid over the last half century with Vermont and Connecticut boasting the most impressive incumbency advantage resumés

danmalloy10.jpgWith the primary season almost over, one of the 29 governors running for reelection this cycle has already fallen short of their goal - Democrat Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii.

Abercrombie became the first governor of the Aloha State to lose his party's nomination with State Senator David Ige routing the one-term incumbent by more than a two-to-one margin in this month's primary.

It is almost assured that Abercrombie will not be the only governor defeated in 2014, with Republicans Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania and Paul Le Page of Maine and Democrat Pat Quinn of Illinois leading the "most-vulnerable" list.

But many other governors are facing very competitive races this cycle including Democrat Dan Malloy of Connecticut and Republicans Rick Scott of Florida, Nathan Deal of Georgia, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Rick Snyder of Michigan, and Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

In total, more than 100 governors have lost reelection bids over the last 50 years - though some states have seen incumbents tally an unblemished record during this period.

A Smart Politics analysis of the more than 665 gubernatorial elections conducted since 1963 finds that 102 of 406 governors were defeated in their reelection bids, with incumbents from six states notching a perfect record: Connecticut, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wyoming.

Over the last 50 years, 304 governors have won reelection while another 102 lost their party's nomination, lost a general election, or lost a recall election, for a reelection rate of 74.9 percent during this half-century span.

Nearly 670 gubernatorial elections have been conducted since 1963, although the number of elections - and the number of governors eligible and deciding to seek another term - has varied greatly by state.

Since 1963, New Hampshire and Vermont lead the way with 25 gubernatorial elections each - the only two states that still elect governors to two-year terms.

Rhode Island is third with 20, followed by Arkansas with 18, and Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin with 15.

With the exception of Virginia, each state currently allows a sitting governor to succeed himself for at least one cycle though term limits are in the books in a majority of states.

Six states have not seen one governor fail in a reelection bid during this 50-year span with Vermont and Connecticut compiling the most impressive resumés.

Vermont currently holds the record for the most consecutive gubernatorial reelection victories at 18 while Connecticut has compiled the longest period without an incumbent loss (1954) among states that have continuously permitted gubernatorial succession throughout this period.

All 18 of Vermont's governors seeking reelection have been victorious over the last half-century with Democrat Peter Shumlin poised to add to that total in 2014.

The last time a governor from Vermont lost a reelection bid was in 1962 when Republican F. Ray Keyser was defeated by Democrat Philip Hoff - ending a 109-year streak of GOP control of the state's highest elected office.

During the last 50 years, incumbent winners include Hoff (1964, 1966), Republican Deane Davis (1970), Democrat Thomas Salmon (1974), Republican Richard Snelling (1978, 1980, 1982), Democrat Madeleine Kunin (1986, 1988), Democrat Howard Dean (1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000), Republican Jim Douglas (2004, 2006, 2008), and Shumlin (2012).

Connecticut governors are seven for seven in reelection bids over the last 50 years and currently have a streak of nine in a row dating back to 1954 when Republican John Lodge was defeated by Abraham Ribicoff.

Since then, the list of successful Nutmeg State incumbents includes Democrats Ribicoff (1958), John Dempsey (1962, 1966), Ella Grasso (1978), William O'Neill (1982, 1986), and Republicans John Rowland (1998, 2002) and Jodi Rell (2006).

That streak is in jeopardy in 2014 as Democrat Dan Malloy is poised to square off against 2010 foe Tom Foley in one of more than three-dozen gubernatorial rematches in state history.

Wyoming governors have won their last six attempts at reelection during the last 50 years: Republican Stanley Hathaway (1970), Democrat Ed Herschler (1978, 1982), Democrat Mike Sullivan (1990), Republican Jim Geringer (1998), and Democrat Dave Freudenthal (2006).

Republican Incumbent Matt Mead is considered a shoo-in to extend that streak to seven this cycle.

Democrat Jack Gage was the last Cowboy State incumbent to be defeated in a 1962 race against GOPer Clifford Hansen.

Governors in Tennessee have not lost a reelection bid since 1952 when Democrat Gordon Browning lost in the primary to Frank Clement.

However, from 1953 until the late 1970s, governors from the Volunteer State could not serve consecutive terms.

As a result, only four have done so - all victorious - during the period of analysis under study: Republicans Lamar Alexander (1982) and Don Sundquist (1998) and Democrats Ned McWherter (1990) and Phil Bredesen (2006).

GOP incumbent Bill Haslam is a strong favorite to make it five this November against a half-dozen challengers on the ballot.

Likewise, governors from North Carolina have won reelection only four times (Democrat Jim Hunt in 1980 and 1996, Republican Jim Martin in 1988, and Democrat Mike Easley in 2004), as the state Constitution limited their reign to one consecutive term until 1972.

The last time a sitting governor from the Tar Heel State lost a gubernatorial election was Democrat Thomas Holt in 1892.

Holt had become governor after the death of Daniel Fowle in 1891 but lost his reelection bid the next year to Democrat Elias Carr.

Pennsylvania governors have won their last five reelection bids since the state constitution was amended in 1968 to allow governors to succeed themselves, after a nearly century-long ban.

Since then, five Keystone State governors have won reelection: Democrat Milton Shapp (1974), Republican Dick Thornburgh (1982), Democrat Bob Casey (1990), Republican Tom Ridge (1998), and Democrat Ed Rendell (2006).

This streak seems almost assured to come to an end as Republican Tom Corbett finds himself trailing badly in polling against Democratic nominee Tom Wolf.

Other states with particularly impressive incumbency advantages over the last 50 years are Iowa at #7 (90.9 percent), Utah and Michigan at #8 (90.0 percent), and Arizona at #10 (88.9 percent).

And where have incumbents seen less than rosy reelection odds across the nation?

On the other end of the spectrum is Alaska, where only three of eight governors launched successful bids to keep their job since 1963 (37.5 percent): Republican Jay Hammond in 1978, Democrat Tony Knowles in 1998, and Republican Sean Parnell in 2010.

Parnell is on the ballot again in 2014, and will face four challengers including Democrat Byron Mallott and independent Bill Walker - candidates who will likely depress Parnell's numbers into the high 30s or low 40s come Election Day.

Alabama is the only other state whose governors have won less than half of their bids for another term over the last 50 years, with three successful and four failing to do so (42.9 percent).

Eight other states have seen governors lose reelection at least 40 percent of the time: Mississippi (2 of 4, 50 percent), Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Missouri, (3 of 7, 42.9 percent), Texas (5 of 12, 41.7 percent), Massachusetts (2 of 5, 40.0 percent) and Oklahoma (4 of 10, 40.0 percent).

Among these states, Republican incumbents in Alaska (Parnell), Alabama (Robert Bentley), and Oklahoma (Mary Fallin) appear to be safe this cycle, though Florida's Rick Scott is in a tossup race against former Governor Charlie Crist.

On the Democratic side, Mark Dayton of Minnesota is considered the favorite in his race against Republican Jeff Johnson, but expect a nation-leading fifth straight plurality win for whichever candidate is victorious in November.

Gubernatorial Reelection Rate by State Since 1963

Rank
State
# Elections
# Won
# Lost
% Won
1
Vermont
25
18
0
100.0
1
Connecticut
12
7
0
100.0
1
Wyoming
12
6
0
100.0
1
Pennsylvania
12
5
0
100.0
1
North Carolina
13
4
0
100.0
1
Tennessee
12
4
0
100.0
7
Iowa
15
10
1
90.9
8
Utah
14
9
1
90.0
8
Michigan
13
9
1
90.0
10
Arizona
14
8
1
88.9
11
Hawaii*
13
7
1
87.5
11
Colorado
12
7
1
87.5
13
Maryland
12
6
1
85.7
14
Indiana
13
5
1
83.3
14
Maine
12
5
1
83.3
16
Rhode Island
20
12
3
80.0
16
North Dakota
13
8
2
80.0
16
New Mexico
14
4
1
80.0
16
Georgia
12
4
1
80.0
16
Oregon
12
4
1
80.0
21
New Hampshire
25
15
4
78.9
22
Arkansas
18
11
3
78.6
23
New York
12
7
2
77.8
24
West Virginia
14
6
2
75.0
24
California
13
6
2
75.0
24
Idaho
12
6
2
75.0
24
Kentucky
13
3
1
75.0
28
Montana
13
5
2
71.4
28
Ohio
12
5
2
71.4
30
Illinois
13
7
3
70.0
31
Wisconsin
15
8
4
66.7
31
Kansas
15
6
3
66.7
31
Nebraska
13
6
3
66.7
31
South Carolina
12
4
2
66.7
35
South Dakota
15
7
4
63.6
36
Delaware
13
5
3
62.5
36
New Jersey
13
5
3
62.5
36
Washington
13
5
3
62.5
36
Nevada
12
5
3
62.5
40
Massachusetts
13
6
4
60.0
40
Oklahoma
12
3
2
60.0
42
Texas
15
7
5
58.3
43
Florida
13
4
3
57.1
43
Louisiana
13
4
3
57.1
43
Missouri
13
4
3
57.1
43
Minnesota
12
4
3
57.1
47
Mississippi
13
2
2
50.0
48
Alabama
12
3
4
42.9
49
Alaska
12
3
5
37.5
Virginia
13
N/A
N/A
N/A
Total
669
304
102
74.9
* Includes 2014 cycle for Hawaii only. Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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