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Rothenberg: Governorships a Big Opportunity for Democrats in 2014

Patrick Smith/Getty Images File Photo
The job approval rating of Corbett, above, has ranged from the mid-30s to the mid-40s in recent polls, and Scott’s poll numbers have been lousy almost since he took office.

While the fight for the House of Representatives will take center stage next year, another battle could be almost as important for the two parties: control of a handful of big-state governorships.

Republicans like to point out that while they lost the presidency and seats in both chambers of Congress in 2012, their party continues to hold governorships in 30 states, including nine of the country’s 12 largest states.

But most of those governors — 23 to be exact — were elected in 2010, a great GOP year that doesn’t reflect the nation’s (or many states’) political fundamentals. (That number includes Utah’s Gary R. Herbert, who ran in a special election in 2010 and again in 2012.)

If Democrats can win a number of these big-state governorships, even if they don’t take back the U.S. House, it could well bolster the narrative of Democratic momentum leading up to the 2016 elections. It also would put Democrats in the position to retain those governorships four years later, in 2018, when states will select governors who will play a role in the next round of congressional redistricting.

Vulnerable Republican governors in four of the 10 largest states — Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan — give Democrats obvious targets, as well as the bragging rights that go along with any victories.

For the GOP, holding on to at least three of the states’ top office is imperative. But that won’t be an easy task.

Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott surprised some observers four years ago when he defeated the state’s chief financial officer, Alex Sink, by a little more than 1 point.

Scott, who had never held an elected office, survived a tough primary against state attorney general Bill McCollum, while Sink had only a nuisance primary for the Democratic nomination.

But Scott’s poll numbers have been lousy almost since he took office, with a January 2013 survey from Democratic firm Public Policy Polling putting his job approval at a very weak 33 percent and showing him trailing both Sink and former Gov. Charlie Crist, who recently became a Democrat, in general-election trial heats. Other private polls show the governor better positioned but still clearly vulnerable.

Scott recently agreed to expand coverage of his state’s Medicaid plan, taking advantage of federal funding under the new health care law. But Republican legislators are fighting his decision, which could affect the governor’s positioning for re-election.

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