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14 most important elections of 2014

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This is the first story in a two-part series

By Eric Boehm | Watchdog.org

There is no shortage of important elections in 2014, as two recent electoral waves will collide, producing a slate of statewide electoral contests that will shape state and federal policy for years to come.

Democrats won huge shares of the vote in 2008, and that wave has allowed them to maintain control of the U.S. Senate ever since, despite some minor chipping away by Republicans in the past two cycles.

Republicans, on the other hand, enjoyed a wave election in 2010 that carried their party into control in 30 of the nation’s 50 governor’s mansions. The perks that come with that – setting state-level policy and, in many places, controlling congressional redistricting – were reflected in a run of union-busting laws in traditionally blue states and favorable gerrymandering ensuring GOP control of the U.S. House.

This year, Democrats play defense in U.S. Senate races in traditionally red states, with the last vestiges of President Obama’s agenda hanging in the balance.

Republicans, meanwhile, will dig in as Democrats try to take back governorships in several states where GOP governor’s rolled back longstanding union power.

Here’s our list of the 14 most important statewide elections for 2014 – evenly divided between the top seven gubernatorial races (in today’s post) and the top seven senatorial races (check back tomorrow)

GOVERNOR:

Florida:

ALL SMILES: Florida Gov. Rick Scott keeps up a happy face, but his poll numbers suggest that he could be done after one term in the Sunshine State.

Another state that fits the mold of weak Republican incumbent and potential Democratic take-over – except here the Democratic challenger is a former Republican governor.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist is back in action, and now he’s a Democrat. After serving one term as a Republican governor of the Sunshine State, Crist ran for U.S. Senate as an independent and lost to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in 2010. That same year, Gov. Rick Scott was elected to lead the state. But Scott’s approval rating has been in a downward spiral for a while, and Crist recently announced a bid for the governorship next year.

If he wins, it’s a good bet Crist will be the first Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat to win the office. Only in Florida, right?

Illinois:

The script is flipped in this one, as Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn is facing a tough re-election fight.

He may have made things harder for himself by signing a pension reform measure into law, despite opposition from the public sector unions in the state. Those unions now say they will not back Quinn’s re-election.

The Republican primary is wide open, but conservative activist Bruce Rauner seems to be the front-runner. If he wins the primary, the unions may flock back to Quinn’s side, as this election could turn into a battle royale between unions and big business.

Maine:

One of the Democrats’ best hopes for 2014 is in this far northeastern state that rarely attracts much political attention. Gov. Scott LePage can thank the media for largely ignoring Maine, because his odd behavior and frequent verbal gaffes would be front-page fodder in a state further south on the East Coast.

The Democratic opponent is U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, but a recent poll found the two candidates in a statistical dead-heat. Eliot Cutler, an attorney who is running as an independent candidate, is polling well into the double-digits and could be a factor in the race.

Need a little more intrigue? Michaud would be the first openly gay governor in U.S. history, if he wins.

Michigan:

AP file photo

THEY GOT MAD: When Michigan’s governor signed the state’s right-to-work law earlier this year, unions got angry and hit the protest circuit.

Gov. Rick Snyder followed the script of Republican governors who took on big labor over the past four years, and now he is following the script of Republican governors who are being targeted by big labor and their Democratic allies.

Synder signed a law making Michigan a right-to-work state in 2012 – something that was probably inconceivable in the union-dominated state even a decade ago.

Even though Democrats would love to make  an example of him, recent polling shows Snyder has gained momentum in his race against U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, the presumptive Democratic candidate.

Ohio:

Gov. John Kaish seems in better shape than some of his fellow Republicans from the “gubernatorial class of 2010.” But a recent Quinnipiac poll showed Democratic challenger Ed Fitzgerald, a county executive, had closed the gap considerably in the final months of 2013, so this remains a race to watch next year.

After Gov. Chris Christie’s impressive win in New Jersey in 2013, other Republican governors who hope to run for the White House in 2016 – a list that includes Kasich, but also Wisconsin’s Scott Walker – will have to not only win, but win convincingly.

Kasich may run also into trouble with the tea party, which is upset he accepted the Medicaid expansion provision of the Affordable Care Act.

Pennsylvania:

Gov. Tom Corbett is widely regarded as the most likely incumbent to be defeated during the 2014 gubernatorial cycle. His low approval ratings have attracted a crowded field of Democratic contenders, but with the primary only five months away there is no clear front-runner.

A bloody primary fight between Democratic rivals could cost the eventual winner more than just buckets of cash. Already, the field is shifting far to the left by calling for higher minimum wages and new, higher taxes on gas drilling companies – that is perhaps too far left in a moderate state like Pennsylvania.

Still, Corbett has an uphill climb to keep one odd political trend in place: since 1970, when Pennsylvania governors were first allowed to seek a second term, none of them have failed to win re-election.

.

AGAIN, ALREADY: Gov. Scott Walker has won two statewide elections in four years, but now he faces another.

Wisconsin:

Gov. Scott Walker must feel like he’s been running an endless campaign since 2009. After being elected in 2010, he won a recall election in 2012 and now must stand for re-election just two years later.

As in the 2012 recall, the main issue will be the collective bargaining reforms passed by the Wisconsin Legislature and signed by Walker. Mary Burke, a member of the Madison School Board, is the leading opponent on the Democratic side.

National observers expect Walker to prevail again, but Wisconsin figures to be in the national spotlight even if this isn’t the closest race of the year.

Contact Eric Boehm at eric@paindependent.com

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Eric is a reporter for Watchdog.org and former bureau chief for Pennsylvania Independent. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he enjoys great weather and low taxes while writing about state governments, pensions, labor issues and economic/civil liberty. Previously, he worked for more than three years in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, covering Pennsylvania state politics and occasionally sneaking across the border to Delaware to buy six-packs of beer. He has also lived (in order of desirability) in Brussels, Belgium, Pennsburg, Pa., Fairfield, Conn., and Rochester, N.Y. His work has appeared in Reason Magazine, National Review Online, The Freeman Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Examiner and elsewhere. He received a bachelor's degree from Fairfield University in 2009, but he refuses to hang on his wall until his student loans are fully paid off sometime in the mid-2020s. When he steps away from the computer, he enjoys drinking craft beers in classy bars, cheering for an eclectic mix of favorite sports teams (mostly based in Philadelphia) and traveling to new places.

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