Puzzling Governors, Part 3

Here are my final two explanations for all those puzzling governors: Explanation #7: Many states prefer one party in today's presidential elections, but have a rich ...
by | October 16, 2006
 

Puzzle_2 Here are my final two explanations for all those puzzling governors:

Explanation #7: Many states prefer one party in today's presidential elections, but have a rich tradition of supporting the opposite party in all other elections.

Pro: Only a few decades ago, the North was generally Republican and the South was reliably Democratic. Given that Vermont has only elected two Democrats to Congress since the Civil War and Louisiana has only elected one Republican U.S. senator since Reconstruction, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Vermont has a Republican governor and Louisiana has a Democratic governor (even though they support the opposite party in presidential elections).

Con: If this theory were correct, you'd expect the most mismatched governors to be in the South, a region that's Republican in federal elections, but still elects Democrats to most local offices, and, in surprising places like Alabama and Mississippi, most state legislative seats. But in the South the trend toward mismatched governors has actually been waning, with Democratic incumbents defeated in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina in 2002 and Mississippi in 2003.

One more after the jump.

Earlier: Part 1 and Part 2

Explanation #8: Voters judge governors on standards that have little to do with partisanship or ideology.

Pro: It's telling that 2002 was a seminal year for mismatched governors. The economy was struggling, so many state electorates were ready for a change. To generalize this concept, voters think in terms of an "in party" and "out party" when choosing their governors. If things aren't going well (i.e. there's corruption or economic malaise), they're willing to pick an out-party candidate, even if the candidate represents the minority party in the state. Moreover, look at the difference in the approval ratings of Louisiana's Kathleen Blanco and West Virginia's Joe Manchin. Blanco floundered in a crisis situation, while Manchin, despite the unhappy ending, came out of the Sago Mine disaster looking good. Voters look at competency and leadership, not a party label, when they choose governors.

Con: Governors have a role in policy-making related to many of the most ideologically contentious issues in American politics, from taxes to abortion to gay rights. It's not clear why voters would ignore these issues when picking governors.

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

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