Standing by Their Party

posted by Josh Goodman There are lots of ways to get a sense, prior to Election Day, how a political party is going to fare. ...
by | September 29, 2006

posted by Josh Goodman

Parties_2 There are lots of ways to get a sense, prior to Election Day, how a political party is going to fare. You can use polling data, fundraising figures, primary turnout, absentee ballot requests or, most accurately, time travel.

But one of the best ways to gauge how a party is going to do is to judge whether candidates seem ashamed of the party label. In 2002 and 2004, Democrats in the South appeared especially apprehensive about being identified with the national party (and, in 2004, the presidential ticket). Not coincidentally, Democratic candidates for governor and U.S. Senate were pummeled in the South in those years.

This isn't to say they would have won if they'd been prouder to be Democrats. Rather, their reluctance to do things like campaign with John Kerry reflected the distaste voters in their states had for Democrats and therefore foreshadowed their defeat.

In this context, I thought it would be interesting to see who's ashamed of their party label this year. I checked the Web site of every candidate for governor, looking at the main page and biography to see whether they mentioned the candidate's party.

In the 36 gubernatorial elections this year, 26 Democrats and 22 Republicans do. Those totals include four Democrats and two Republicans whose party identification was only mentioned in newspaper articles the campaigns reproduced on their main pages.

What these numbers show is that Democrats aren't as worried about their party label as they've been in the past. But, Republicans have remained fairly true to their party, in spite of low approval ratings for President Bush and Congress. This finding reinforces one of the greatest strengths of the Republican Party over the past few years. No matter how much GOP in-fighting we see in particular states like Kansas and Colorado, nationally they always seem to have a unified message.

Other observations:

* There was a surprising lack of correlation between the partisan inclinations of states and whether candidates identified their party. In the 16 states Kerry won, 12 Democrats and 9 Republicans mentioned their party. In the 20 Bush states, 14 Democrats and 13 Republicans did the same.

* At first I was surprised that New York Democrat Eliot Spitzer didn't mention his party, while Republican John Faso did. But actually that makes some sense. Spitzer has Democrats firmly on his side, so his margin of victory will depend on how many independents and Republicans he can draw.

* Some Republicans seem to prefer to emphasize their ideology rather than their party. For example, Alabama Governor Bob Riley's Web site doesn't mention the GOP, but rather his "proven, honest, conservative leadership." Same for Texas Governor Rick Perry, a "strong fiscal conservative."

* Some candidates made an effort to not turnoff voters of a different political persuasion by mentioning their party. For example, Ohio Democrat Ted Strickland's bio called him, "a principled Democrat who unites folks from both parties."

* Only one candidate didn't have anything that could be described as a biography on his Web site: California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Governor Schwarzenegger, how is anyone going to know who you are without a biography?

The full list:

                       DEM   REP

Alabama           yes    no

Alaska              yes    yes

Arizona            no      yes

Arkansas          yes*   no

California         yes    yes*

Colorado           no     yes

Connecticut      yes*   yes

Florida             yes    yes

Georgia           no      yes

Hawaii             yes    yes

Idaho              yes     yes

Illinois             no      yes

Iowa               yes     yes*

Kansas            yes     no

Maine             yes     yes

Maryland         yes*    no

Massachusetts yes     no

Michigan          yes     no

Minnesota        yes     no

Nebraska         yes*    no

Nevada            yes      yes

New Hampshire no    no

New Mexico     yes     yes

New York          no     yes

Ohio                yes     yes

Oklahoma         no     no

Oregon             yes    yes

Pennsylvania    yes     no

Rhode Island     no**   yes

South Carolina  yes    no

South Dakota    yes    yes

Tennessee        no     yes

Texas              yes     no

Vermont          yes      yes

Wisconsin       yes      no**

Wyoming         no       yes

* Identified only in newspaper article

** Mentioned defeating incumbent of the opposite party in a previous election

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

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