Puzzling Governors, Part 1

I wrote a feature investigating two related puzzles for the October issue of Governing: Why have so many gubernatorial candidates won elections in unfriendly places (...
by | October 12, 2006
 

Puzzle I wrote a feature investigating two related puzzles for the October issue of Governing: Why have so many gubernatorial candidates won elections in unfriendly places (Republicans in Democratic states and Democrats in Republican states) and why have they thrived? But even with 3,000 words with which to work, I couldn't fit in all the possible explanations. So here are all the ones I can think of, with arguments for and against:

Explanation #1: The country isn't really all that divided; there aren't red states and blue states.

Pro: Stanford Professor Morris Fiorina has argued that even on the most divisive issues -- abortion and gay rights -- most Americans favor moderate positions regardless of what state they call home. Even in Mississippi, 2 of 5 voters supported Kerry, while in New York 2 of 5 supported Bush.

Con: States seem to have consistent partisan preferences, except in gubernatorial politics. Only three states flipped parties between the 2000 and the 2004 presidential election. The party that lost the 2004 state presidential vote has the majority of seats in only 35% of state legislatures and 14% of congressional delegations. But 42% of governors are "mismatched."

More possible explanations after the jump.

Explanation #2: They win because they're moderate and distance themselves from their party.

Pro: Wyoming Democrat Dave Freudenthal has been quoted saying, "I don't care about Howard Dean." Connecticut Republican Jodi Rell signed the only law in U.S. history to offer same-sex civil unions that wasn't prompted by a court order.

Con: Being moderate doesn't seem sufficient for mismatched candidates running for other offices to win. In 2004, Democrats ran prominent moderates for U.S. Senate in Alaska, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Louisiana. They all lost.

Explanation #3: Voters like to balance the power of the legislature by electing governors of the opposite party, often meaning the minority party controls the governorship.

Pro: Many observers think this argument explains the success of Republicans in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, where voters support overwhelmingly Democratic legislatures, but, the theory goes, like to keep government spending in check with G.O.P. governors. The opposite party from the governor controls the legislature in lots of other states too, including Wyoming, Kansas, California, Hawaii, Maryland, Arizona and Connecticut, just to name some of them.

Con: When Montanans elected Democrat Brian Schweitzer, they gave him a Democratic legislature. New Yorkers elected George Pataki three times, even though the state already had a Republican state senate. In general, most voters aren't sophisticated enough to consider the interplay of different branches of government when deciding how to cast their ballots.

I'll have more tomorrow.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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