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I found the same situation in Montana in 2004. Unpopular GOP Gov. Judy Martz opted not to run for re-election, and a Democrat won her open seat. But Bush carried the state in his re-election bid, again demonstrating that voters made a distinction between the GOP candidates.
Of course, Missouri and Montana aren’t perfect examples because the PPP-Politico-TPM hypothesis posits a sitting governor in midterm — and therefore not on the ballot — affecting a presidential race.
We can, of course, point to a midterm dynamic of an unpopular president damaging his party’s candidates downballot, such as what happened in 1958, 1974, 1982, 2006 and 2010.
But the normal midterm dynamic when the president is unpopular results from voters going to the polls to send a message to the commander in chief. Does anyone seriously believe that voters in Ohio, Florida or Wisconsin are going to vote for president to send a message to their governors?
PPP’s Debnam argues that Ohio Gov. John Kasich has hurt the “Republican brand,” and that same argument can be made about other unpopular GOP governors. That is not an unreasonable point. It just isn’t a compelling one.
The national GOP brand in the fall of 2012 is more likely to be defined by the party’s presidential nominee (or even the Congressional party over the next 17 months), not individual governors or state issues. We will all be focused on the primaries, the presidential hopefuls, the national economy and Obama, not on Scott, Kasich or Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — none of whom will be on the ballot next year.
I do not dismiss out of hand Ornstein’s argument to me that if he were the president, “I would go into Ohio and campaign on this theme: If you like John Kasich’s economic policies, you are going to LOVE [fill in the name of the Republican nominee].” But that will be merely one of Obama’s messages.
If voters are unhappy with the president (and especially his handling of the economy) and believe he does not deserve another term, and if the GOP nominee is an acceptable alternative, it’s unlikely that voters in Florida and Ohio will vote to rehire the president because they are unhappy with the performance of their Republican governor. It never works that way.
Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.