Scott Walker, John Kasich, Rick Scott: No longer the least popular people in politics

at 09:09 PM ET, 06/17/2012

Almost exactly one year ago today, we wrote about how newly minted Republican Govs. Scott Walker (Wis.), John Kasich (Ohio) and Rick Scott (Fla.) were having a very hard time early in their first terms.

So much so that, the argument could be made, their troubles threatened to weigh down the GOP presidential candidates hopes in their crucial swing states. Or at least make them unwelcome surrogates.

Since then, though, all three have shown some improvement.

Today the nine crucial swing states The Fix has identified as key to the 2012 election feature feature what is a relatively popular crop of governors.

To be sure, Scott still has his problems. While the Quinnipiac poll above shows his approval rating rebounding into the 40s, a Democratic-leaning automated poll recently showed him right back where he was before, in the low-30s. But the trendline is at least positive at this point.

(The chart above features select recent polling, with preference given to live-interview polls where available.)

The same Democratic pollster, Public Policy Polling, showed North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue (D) in very similar territory recently, and her problems don’t show any signs of ceasing.

But for the rest of the crew, things are looking pretty decent.

Walker, of course, won a big victory in last week’s recall election and has seen his approval rating climb past 50 percent. In fact, he’s become a bonafide GOP star now.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), meanwhile, has overcome his own controversy over collective bargaining rights somewhat, with the latest Quinnipiac poll showing his approval rating (41 percent) approaching his disapproval rating (44 percent).

And all of the other governors in these nine states are pretty popular. Nevada’s Brian Sandoval (R), Virginia’s Bob McDonnell (R), Iowa’s Terry Branstad (R) and Colorado’s John Hickenlooper (D) all sport approval ratings in the 50s, while New Hampshire’s John Lynch (D) remains perhaps the most popular governor in the country, with a recent University of New Hampshire poll pegging his approval at 72 percent (!) in a swing state (!!).

The moral of the story: Things change and change quickly. While many governors in tough states did some tough budget-cutting early on and paid a political price for it, time can heal wounds.

Governors like Kasich and Scott still have some work to do, but progress is progress.

Below are our rankings of the five governors considered most likely to lose their seats in 2012. The number one ranked seat is considered the most likely to switch sides.

To the Line!

Off the line: Wisconsin

On to the line: West Virginia

5. West Virginia (Democratic-controlled): This race returns to our Friday line today after the conclusion of the Wisconsin recall. With Wisconsin off the line, the new No. 5 came down to West Virginia and Missouri — both red-leaning states where an incumbent Democrat is the favorite. But we put West Virginia on here because Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) was narrowly elected just a few months ago.That said, the first poll of the 2012 race showed him up big. We’ll see if other polling backs that up. (Previous ranking: N/A)

4. Montana (D): The matchup here is now set, with Republicans last week nominating former congressman Rick Hill to face state Attorney General Steve Bullock (D) in this open seat race. The question from here is what kind of campaign Hill runs. The only public poll of the race, from Democratic-leaning automated pollster Public Policy Polling, shows his unfavorable rating (28 percent) is higher than his favorable rating (20 percent), but he was still tied with Bullock at 39 percent. (Previous ranking: 4)

3. Washington (D): State Attorney General Rob McKenna continues to look like a strong candidate for the GOP. He raised twice as much as former congressman Jay Inslee (D) in May, $1.2 million to $574,000, and is now close to financial parity despite a law the prevents him from raising money while the state legislature is in session. McKenna also recently got the endorsement of the Public Schools Employees of Washington, his second endorsement from an education union. (Previous ranking: 3)

2. New Hampshire (D): This race is in a bit of a holding pattern while both sides figure out their primaries. On the GOP side, former state representative Kevin Smith just got the endorsement of former congressman Bill Zeliff while Ovide Lamontagne, who beat Zeliff in the 1996 gubernatorial primary, got the backing of his 2010 Senate primary opponent, businessman Bill Binnie. On the Democratic side, former state senator Maggie Hassan has come out against increasing income or sales taxes, while former state senator Jackie Cilley is open to upping other taxes to reduce the property tax burden. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. North Carolina (D): This one has gotten contentious in a hurry. Democrats’ early efforts to define Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory (R) seem to revolve around ethics and the fact that he was getting paid by Duke Energy while serving as mayor. But they have to walk a fine line, because Duke also happens to be guaranteeing a $10 million line of credit for the upcoming Democratic National Convention. (This editorial cartoon says it all). Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton (D), meantime, will have to put some distance between himself and Perdue, who polling suggests has only gotten more unpopular since announcing her retirement. (Previous ranking: 1)

 
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