- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2014

The shine has worn off many of the GOP governors from the class of 2010, with the first-year fights over public pensions in the rear view and many of the party’s brightest stars now facing tricky re-election campaigns.

The good news for the GOP is that New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval all poll well and appear headed for re-election in November. The bad news for Republicans is that those in some of the bigger states, including Govs. Rick Scott of Florida and Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, have grim approval ratings.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage also is on shaky political ground.

Then there are governors that fall somewhere in between, including Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Rick Snyder in Michigan, John Kasich in Ohio and Nikki Haley in South Carolina, who could be vulnerable come Election Day.

The nation’s governors descend on Washington on Friday as the National Governors Association meets, and the GOP chief executives are likely to get extra scrutiny, with several high-profile governors facing investigations. But outside of the legal troubles, the governors will make the argument they’re still the vanguard of a resurgent Republican Party that’s experimenting in the states.

“They are focused on creating more jobs and opportunity in their states, and their efforts are paying off,” said Phil Cox, executive director of the Republican Governors Association. “Unlike Washington D.C., they are showing real leaderships in the states, bringing Democrats and Republicans together to get results on the most important issues.”

“While voters are pessimistic about the direction of the country, they are increasingly optimistic about the direction of the states being led by Republican governors,” he said, adding that the GOP-led states have seen their unemployment rates drop.

But Danny Kanner, of the Democratic Governors Association, painted a different picture, saying he is confident that Republicans will fall in the coming election.

“They have pursued an economic philosophy that rewards the wealthy and the well-connected at the expense of the middle-class and investments in education,” Mr. Kanner said. “They have promoted a radical social agenda that alienates women, immigrants, young Americans and working people. In doing all of that, they have fostered a climate of hostility and division in their states.”

“We feel confident that we are well-positioned to pick up seats — mainly because they have pursued an agenda that has been rejected in many of these states in the elections of 2008 and 2012,” he said.

In 2010, Republicans flipped 11 governorships, and they now control 29 governor’s mansions — and some of them immediately shook things up in their states.

Mr. Walker arguably made the biggest splash of all when he successfully pushed to have government employees contribute more to their health care plans and pensions, and to strip them of some of their collective-bargaining rights.

Mr. Walker went on to survive a recall election, which was seen as a blow to organized labor, and he’s thought to be considering a bid for the White House in 2016.

But he first has to survive a re-election fight in the fall, and a Marquette University Law School poll released last month showed him leading Democratic challenger Mary Burke by a 47 percent to 41 percent margin.

Mr. Kasich also sought to overhaul Ohio’s labor laws, but voters ultimately rejected his push to limit collective-bargaining rights for public employees, overturning the new law in a public referendum.

Mr. Kasich has since regained his political footing, but he is not out of the woods entirely. A Quinnipiac University Poll released this week showed that Ohioans give Mr. Kasich a 51 percent approval rating, versus just 36 percent disapproval. Since November, his lead over Cuyahoga County Executive Ed Fitzgerald in Quinnipiac polling has remained steady at 5 to 7 percentage points, within the poll’s margin of error.

Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, suggested that history could be on the side of the Republican governors, saying that 80 percent of the incumbent governors running in general election races have won re-election over the past half-century.

“It stands to reason, then, that most of the Republican governors who were elected in the 2010 wave will get another term,” he said. “As a group, they’ve had their ups and their downs, and a few of them are struggling — like Tom Corbett, Paul LePage and Rick Scott. But the power of incumbency, a Democratic foil in the White House and a lack of glaring mistakes should be enough to prolong most of their Statehouse careers.”

Mr. Cox said that the Republicans running in the ten most competitive gubernatorial races stand to benefit from Mr. Obama’s weak job approval ratings and growing concerns about the Affordable Care Act.

“The more voters learn about Obamacare, the less they like it,” he said. “I think that will help our party come November in terms of Republican intensity. I also think it will depress the Democratic base and Independents will be willing to listen to our message.”

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