2013/2014 Gubernatorial and Senate Election Update (May):

It has been a few months since I last visited the upcoming 2013 and 2014 gubernatorial and Senate elections and I thought it was time to re-visit these races.

2013 Contests:

Virginia – Lt. Governor Bill Bolling decided against making an Independent run at the Governor’s Mansion.  This essentially set the field on both sides.  Polling for this race has been close and should be taken with a grain of salt since both Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe are both relatively unknown statewide and both have major flaws as gubernatorial candidates.   Nevertheless, early polling shows Cuccinelli holding onto a slight lead.  Based on the RCP average, the Republican has a little over a 4 point lead, but it also shows a whopping 21% of the electorate is undecided.  While Cuccinelli probably has the slight advantage in this race, it still remains anyone’s game.

New Jersey – The gubernatorial contest between incumbent Chris Christie and state Senator Barbara Buono is the complete opposite from Virginia. Christie continues to be a political juggernaut raising huge amounts of money, maintaining record-level approval ratings and preserving a 30+ point advantage in the polls over his completely unknown Democratic challenger.  This race will close (some) by November, but Christie will easily dispatch his opponent in one of the bluest states in the country.

Massachusetts – The special election to fill John Kerry’s Senate seat got really interesting after the primaries unexpectedly gave Gabriel Gomez, a former Navy SEAL, business man, and son of Colombian immigrants, the Republican nomination.  Immediately, two polls came out that showed Gomez within striking distance of Markey.  Since then a few polls have shown a wider race, but the RCP average still has Markey up by only 9 points. Many are calling Gomez the next Scott Brown (and there is a path for Gomez to become that), but at this point, I think this seat will remain in the Democrat’s hands even if it’s just by a single-digit margin.

2014 Gubernatorial Contests:

Republicans will be on the defensive in 2014 for control of their gubernatorial posts.

Safe GOP Seats (10): AL, AK, ID, KS, NE, OK, SD, TN, TX, WY – none of these seats are in danger at all for the Republicans.

Likely GOP Seats (6): AR, AZ, GA, NM, NV, SC – Arkansas is likely to flip control in 2014; Arizona could become problematic under a confluence of best-case scenarios for the Democrats; Georgia’s Nathan Deal continues to have underwhelming approval ratings and is potentially vulnerable against the right Democratic challenger like Atlanta’s Kasim Reed or Congressman John Barrow; Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval are both one of the most popular governors in the country, but I’m hesitate to call these safe quite yet because New Mexico and Nevada are such blue states now; Nikki Haley, if she survives a possible primary challenge, is vulnerable against the right Democratic challenger considering her middling approval ratings.

Lean GOP Seats (3): IA, OH, WI – All three of these states went for Obama twice, and each has a very conceivable path for their Democratic challengers to unseat them (more so than the Likely seats).  However, at this point, these seats are definitely trending toward the Likely category, not toward Toss-Up range.

GOP-Held Toss-Ups (4): FL, MI, PA, ME – Florida’s Rick Scott continues to have among the worst approval ratings in the country.  He will have a massive war chest in 2014, but that still might not be enough to get him re-elected.  A possible challenge by former Governor Crist could realistically be either a blessing or a curse.  Michigan’s Rick Snyder still hasn’t recovered from the fall-out of signing the Right to Work legislation.  That decision just may be too much for this blue state to handle.  Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett is in Rick Scott territory with approval ratings and hasn’t found his groove like neighboring John Kasich has in Ohio. Maine’s Paul LePage is really unpopular, but like in 2010, could win re-election because of a three-way race between LePage, a Democrat, and an Independent.

Safe Dem Seats (4): HI, MD, NY, VT – none of these seats will be lost by Democrats no matter what happens.

Likely Dem Seats (3): CA, CO, OR – While it’s unlikely, strong challengers could make the California race against incumbent Jerry Brown, the Colorado race against John Hickenlooper, and the Oregon race against John Kitzhaber competitive, but that seems like a stretch at this point.

Lean Dem Seats (3): IL, MN, NH – New Hampshire is a fickle state politically, but at this point it looks like incumbent Maggie Hassan is in decent shape; Illinois’ Pat Quinn has terrible approval ratings and could face a serious primary challenge, but a lack of a GOP bench helps keep this out of Toss-Up range; Minnesota’s Mark Dayton also has unimpressive ratings, but like Illinois, few strong Republican choices keep this out of Toss-up range.

Dem-Held Toss-Ups (3): CT, MA, RI – I’m being very conservative here because fundamentals say none of these states should be considered Toss-Ups.  However, Connecticut’s Dan Malloy has bad approval ratings, doesn’t have many popular policy wins, and has a strong competitor already in his 2012 foe, who almost beat him.  In Massachusetts, incumbent Deval Patrick is not seeking re-election and the Democratic bench is actually quite underwhelming.  If Scott Brown seeks the job, this race becomes a Lean GOP seat; if not, another Republican like Charlie Baker could keep it in the Toss-Up column. Rhode Island is unique because it will likely be another three-way contest between unpopular incumbent Lincoln Chafee (Independent) and a Republican and Democrat.  As with Maine, you never really know what could happen in a three-way race.

2014 Senate Contests:

Most the action for the Senate will take place in only a handful of states.

Safe GOP Seats (12): AL, ID, KS, ME, MS, NE, OK, SC, TN, TX, WY, SC special – Nebraska’s Mike Johanns surprised everyone with his decision to retire, but that retirement won’t change this seat’s rating; Maine remains here as long as Susan Collins seeks re-election, which is appearing likely and both South Carolina seats are safe unless Lindsey Graham gets primaried and losses to an Akin/Donnelly-style candidate.

Likely GOP Seats (2): GA, KY – Mitch McConnell’s approval ratings in Kentucky is bad, which is what keeps this seat out of the safe category.  The Georgia race really depends on how the primary settles.  If an Akin/Donnelly-style candidate wins the Republican nomination, the Democrats have a chance.

Lean GOP Seats (2): SD, WV – Both of these seats would be Republican pick-ups but neither has an incumbent running.  Shelley Moore Capito could easily make this seat a Likely Republican one but I need to see more polling and a Democrat challenger needs to appear before I make that judgment.  South Dakota could become problematic, but Mark Rounds is a solid recruit for Republicans (even though a primary could happen on the Republican side).

Toss-Ups (5): AK, AR, LA, MT, NC – These are all states Romney won (by an average of 14 points).  All except MT will have a Democratic incumbent on the ballot, which the power of the incumbency will help, but the federal level voting records of these states make them problematic.  A lot of whether the Republicans can win them depends on recruitment.  However, Republicans have to win at least 4 of these states (in addition to the two Lean GOP seats) if they want to regain a majority in the Senate.

Lean Dem Seats (2): IA, NH – Iowa’s open seat can become a Toss-Up if Republicans can find a decent candidate.  They’ve had to move onto their second tier candidates.  New Hampshire, again, is a fickly political state, so you can never really be sure of what their voters could do this far out even if the incumbent is popular.

Likely Dem Seats (3): CO, MI, MA special – Michigan is an open seat with the Democrats having recruited a strong candidate and the Republicans lacking one now. If Markey wins the special election in June in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts special seat will become a Safe Dem seat.  Colorado Republicans have a light bench, but a strong candidate could make this one competitive.

Safe Dem Seats (9): DE, IL, MN, NJ, NM, RI, OR, VA, HI special – I don’t expect to see any of these races to become competitive.

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