Democrats play defense in governors’ races

By By Daniel C. Vock

Stateline.org (MCT)

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 3 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

The long-anticipated matchup pits Jay Inslee, a Democratic congressman, against Rob McKenna, the Republican attorney general. It is one of the closest governors’ races in the country, and it could also be one of the most expensive. Republican and Democratic groups have already committed to spending $10 million combined on the contest. One of the reasons it is drawing so much interest is that it is the marquee race in the state. The presidential race is not competitive in Washington state because it’s so heavily Democratic, and there is no U.S. Senate contest this fall, explains Seattle Pacific University professor Reed Davis.

In her last term, Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, has struggled with state lawmakers to try to balance the state budget. The persistent shortfalls led to cuts in school funding, something McKenna has criticized. The Republican wants to increase money for schools and public universities, and Davis says that will help McKenna with suburban voters. Inslee, on the other hand, is better known for his advocacy in environmental issues and clean energy.


The biggest budget problem facing Montana is what to do with a surplus, and that could play a major role in the governor’s race, says University of Montana political science professor Jim Lopach. Republican Rick Hill, a former congressman, faces Attorney General Steve Bullock, a Democrat.

Nearly all of Montana’s statewide officeholders are Democrats, including term-limited Gov. Brian Schweitzer, but Republicans outnumber Democrats. That means Democrats like Bullock have to appear more moderate to attract independents, Lopach says, while Republicans can appeal more to their conservative base, as Hill has done.

Already, the RGA has tried to tie Bullock to Obama, because the attorney general did not join a nationwide suit to block Obama’s health care law. But Hill and Bullock are competing not only against each other, but also with a U.S. Senate race that so far has attracted far more attention than the gubernatorial contest, Lopach says.

North Carolina

Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory is trying to end a two-decade stretch of Democratic control of the North Carolina governorship. He faces Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, after incumbent Bev Perdue opted not to seek another term. The match-up has already drawn at least $3 million from the governors groups, and will likely see far more. But McCrory is better-known and Democrats face an uphill climb in the race.

“After years of scandal,” Dalton said in his first general election ad, “I get why people have lost faith in their leaders.”

But most of those scandals involved Democrats.


Incumbent Jay Nixon, a Democrat, faces St. Louis businessman Dave Spence, who has spent more than $3 million of his own money on his campaign so far. Nixon is emphasizing the new jobs that have come to Missouri during his term and budgets he signed with no tax increases. Spence earned fleeting national notoriety when he claimed he earned a college degree in “economics” when it was actually in home economics.

West Virginia

Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin faces a rematch against Republican Bill Maloney little more than a year after the two faced off in a special election. Maloney has tried to tie Tomblin to Obama, who is deeply unpopular in the state, especially for clean-air policies that could harm the local coal industry. But Tomblin has been running against the president, too. He has not endorsed Obama and did not go to the party convention in Charlotte, N.C. He boasts of winning a lawsuit against the Obama administration over coal regulations.


Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat first elected in 2010, is an outspoken liberal who has pressed, among other things, a single-payer health insurance system for Vermont, in which one government agency would collect all health care fees and pay providers, rather than leaving the process to a variety of health care organizations. In his bid for a second two-year term, Shumlin faces Republican state Sen. Randy Brock.


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