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Races for Governor in 2014 Could Play a Significant Role in Shaping the 2016 Presidential Contest

October 24, 2014
Joshua Baca, Senior Vice President, Client Relations

Key races for governor taking place this November could play a significant role on electing the next President of the United States. Much of the election news coverage to date has focused on Republican efforts to win six seats necessary to gain control of the U.S. Senate; however, there are also 36 races for governor occurring across the country. These races may prove more politically meaningful in the long-run. Some governors up for re-election are considered serious contenders for President in 2016, while others will look to use their victories as a launching pad for higher office.

For governors who might be seriously looking at a 2016 presidential campaign, decisive and convincing victories in November can create a wave of momentum that yields campaign contributors, press coverage and confidence among primary voters. Most importantly, their campaign infrastructure can easily transition to a presidential campaign, making the grueling task of organizing and managing a Presidential campaign easier to get off the ground. Then-governor George W. Bush used this model to successfully win the GOP nomination and eventually the Presidency in 2000.
Should former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton not run for President in 2016, Democrats could turn to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo or outgoing Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (Democrats are strongly favored to hold his governorship) as their standard-bearer. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, once considered a dark horse for the Democratic nomination, might come up short on his race for re-election. The Democratic bench overall is fairly light should Secretary Clinton opt out of the race.

On the Republican side, many conservative leaders and activists love the idea of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker making a serious play for the 2016 GOP nomination; however, he’s locked in a closer-than-expected re-election campaign. While Governor Walker should be favored to win in November, a tight victory margin might deny him the momentum to dive right in as a serious Presidential contender. Republicans could also turn to Ohio Governor John Kasich, who is cruising to re-election in Ohio, a state Republicans must win to capture the White House in 2016. New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez and Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, who are also expected to win re-election convincingly, might be viable and fresh options for Republicans. Both could be attractive candidates that can appeal to Hispanic voters and provide Republicans with the credible voice needed in this community during a presidential campaign. Should they not seek the nomination, both will be considered top contenders for Vice President because of their attractive resumes.
Last November when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie convincingly won a second term, his victory speech implied that his re-election was the beginning of something much bigger. Many pundits and political prognosticators instantly labeled him the Republican front-runner for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. Unfortunately for Governor Christie (and fortunately for other Republicans looking at the 2016 race), his momentum slowed rather quickly as he dealt with local scandals that brought unfavorable press coverage and negatively impacted voters’ view of him. It isn’t entirely clear if these events have negatively impacted his 2016 ambitions.

Outgoing and former GOP governors continue to work aggressively to elect Republican governors this November, ensuring they remain relevant and in the news, hoping to claim credit for positive outcomes. Such an approach builds relationships in key states and fuels speculation of their future ambitions. Outgoing Texas Governor Rick Perry could give it another run, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush would be a strong favorite should he throw his hat in the race. While neither is on the ballot this November, both were successful governors with records that would attract many voters.

Finally, Iowa and New Hampshire will continue to play an outsized role in nominating candidates for President. While both are swing states in Presidential elections, governors in these states can also play a critical role in influencing the nominating process. It’s likely that these states will remain split between Republicans and Democrats, as Iowa Governor Terry Brandstad (R) is heavily favored to win re-election, and New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan (D) is slightly favored to win re-election. Both will likely deploy their political operations to influence the process and perhaps their favored candidates.

While the dust is yet to settle on the 2014 mid-term elections, it’s clear that past and present governors will play a significant role in shaping the 2016 presidential campaign.

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