Why the GOP’s electoral vote gambit won’t work

February 1, 2013

A Republican-backed plan to change the way certain states allocate electoral votes has fizzled as quickly as it sprung onto the national consciousness.

The slate of upcoming 2014 governor's races is a major reason why that happened.


Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) is already potentially vulnerable in 2014. (Chris Clark/AP)

Last month, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus voiced some support for the effort to award electoral votes in a handful of battleground states by congressional district. Since many of those congressional districts lean Republican, the plan, if passed in several swing states, would give future GOP presidential nominees a leg up.

But for the Republican governors in these states, endorsing the idea -- which Democrats can easily cast as a partisan power grab -- would carry immense political risk on the eve of reelection campaigns that already promise to be challenging.

So, the governors have mostly distanced themselves from such proposals.

A spokesman for Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) told the Cleveland Plain Dealer this week that he is not pursuing any changes to the electoral college. Kasich, whose numbers have been on the mend, remains vulnerable to a Democratic challenge.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R), whose decision to make the Wolverine State a "right-to-work" state has already enraged the political left, said: "I don't think this is an appropriate time" for the proposed electoral vote overhaul.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) sounded awfully wary of the idea in an interview with Politico published this week, even as he didn't take it completely off the table. “I just said I hadn’t ruled it out. I’m not embracing it because it’s a double-edged sword," he said. Walker, like Snyder and Kasich, could face a tough reelection campaign next year.

A leading Republican in Florida, where GOP Gov. Rick Scott (R) is already on the ropes, said: "I don't think we need to change the rules of the game, I think we need to get better." Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), who is term-limited  but may have his eye on higher office down the road, called it a "bad idea."

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett (R) appears to be a question mark. The governor has backed such a change in the past, but it would be hard to imagine him embracing the measure in such a blue state now, on the eve of his 2014 reelection.

As The Fix's Aaron Blake noted, proposing such a dramatic change is best done as far away from the next presidential election as possible, in hopes of avoiding a backlash over seemingly gaming the system for your side's benefit.

But for the governors in the states where the overhaul is being floated, it's impossible to look beyond 2014. Endorsing a new system that clearly helps the GOP would risk alienating independents and Democratic crossover votes, something those Republican governors can hardly afford at this point.

And now, to the Line! Below, we list our top 15 races (out of 36 states holding contests). As usual, No. 1 is most likely to change control.

15. New Hampshire (Democratic-controlled): Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) was part of a Democratic wave that swept through New Hampshire in 2012. She will face reelection in two years, but the burden will be on Republicans to find a formidable alternative, which is far from a sure bet. (Previous ranking: 14)

14. Massachusetts (D): We’re moving Massachusetts into a more vulnerable spot since Lt. Gov. Tim Murray (D) -- who once looked like the potential frontrunner but now faces claims from state regulators that he may have violated campaign finance law -- isn’t going to run and popular Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) all but shut the door on a bid. And with former senator Scott Brown (R) passing on a Senate bid, the governor's race becomes a more real possibility for him. If he runs, he'd give the GOP a legitimate hope of making a pickup here. (Previous ranking: 15)

13. Wisconsin (Republican-controlled): Walker will face his third gubernatorial election in four years in 2014, after surviving a recall attempt in response to his law curbing collective bargaining for public employees. The governor received some good news when a federal court of appeals upheld his law last month, and so far, no clear Democratic alternative has emerged. Things are looking good for Walker right now, but that can change in a hurry. (Previous ranking: 13)

12. Connecticut (D): 2014 could be a rematch of 2010, with Republican Tom Foley planning to challenge Gov. Dan Malloy (D). Malloy, who has been in the public eye  since the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, will have the advantage of incumbency this time around, which will make things tough for Foley. (Previous ranking: 12)

11. Arizona (R): This is a conservative state, but the news that 2012 Democratic Senate nominee Richard Carmona is considering a gubernatorial bid gives Democrats hope. Carmona put up an impressive fight against now-Sen. Jeff Flake last year, and would be a top recruit for the governor's race. Another possibility: Mark Kelly. (Previous ranking: 11)

10. Ohio (R): Kasich’s once horrible-looking numbers have bounced back, boosting GOP hopes of holding a seat that once looked like a virtual lock to fall into Democratic hands. Former governor Ted Strickland (D) would have cleared the Democratic field, but he announced last month that he won't run. Look for Democrats to coalesce around Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, a young former FBI special agent who is moving ever closer to a run. (Previous ranking: 9)

9. South Carolina (R): 2014 could be the year of the rematch across the gubernatorial landscape, and South Carolina could be among the states hosting 2010 sequels, if state Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D) decides to challenge Gov. Nikki Haley (R). After winning narrowly in 2010, Haley's numbers have been subpar, and if you're Sheheen, the opportunity may be too good to pass up. (Previous ranking: 10)

8. Pennsylvania (R): Corbett’s net -14 approval in an early January survey from Democratic automated pollster Public Policy Polling made him the fourth most unpopular sitting governor PPP polled. The Democratic field may grow crowded, and we’ll know more about this race once it becomes clear who all will run. (Previous ranking: 8)

7. Illinois (D): As we've noted before, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's overwhelming unpopularity could be a blessing in disguise for Democrats, if it spurs them to nominate someone else, like Attorney General Lisa Madigan or former White House chief of staff Bill Daley. Meanwhile, the GOP race looks like a wide-open contest. (Previous ranking: 7)

6. Michigan (R): Snyder is vulnerable, but Democrats have to find a challenger to coalesce around. So far, they are still looking. State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer (D) said this week that she will not run. (Previous ranking: 5)

5. Virginia (R) (2013): The lack of a primary challenger cleared the way for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) to pivot to the ideological middle in preparation for a general election showdown against former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe. But he’s shown no signs of softening his conservative rhetoric.What's more, in his forthcoming book, Cuccinelli even uses language akin to Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” comment. (Previous ranking: 6)

4. Rhode Island (Independent-controlled): This looks like one of the most open races on the map. Another three-way race could help Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I). Of course, Chafee might also run as a Democrat, something he has said he is open to doing. The Democratic name to keep an eye on is state Treasurer Gina Raimondo, who polling shows would be a formidable candidate if she runs. (Previous ranking: 3)

3. Arkansas (D): Democratic Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s exit from the race spares Democrats the task of defending a candidate who admitted to an extramarital affair. But they need to find a new standard-bearer. Former lieutenant governor Bill Halter (D) has filed papers to run, but he didn't acquit himself terribly well during his 2010 primary challenge to then-Sen. Blanche Lincoln. On the GOP side, former congressman Asa Hutchison, who has said he intends to run, is the frontrunner. In this conservative state, Republicans are well-positioned for an open-seat pickup. (Previous ranking: 4)

2. Maine (R): A three-way race helped Gov. Paul LePage (R) squeak out a victory in 2010. Can such a scenario save him again in 2014? It might be his only hope. If Eliot Cutler (I) and a formidable Democrat both run, LePage would have a shot. Otherwise, he’s on track to be a one-term governor. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. Florida (R): Gov. Rick Scott (R) continues to struggle badly, with nearly six in ten voters disapproving of the job he is doing, according to the latest PPP poll. Question marks remain on the Democratic side, where former governor Charlie Crist looks like he is gearing up for a bid, but has not officially committed yet. 2010 Democratic nominee Alex Sink is also worth keeping an eye on. (Previous ranking: 1)

Updated at 2:18 p.m. 

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Politics
Next Story
Aaron Blake · February 1, 2013