As the saying goes, two is company but three’s a crowd. Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R), however, might feel differently.
LePage was the beneficiary of competitive three-way race in 2010. And a sequel that resembles the original may be just what the doctor has ordered for him.
The outspoken favorite of the tea party is in very rough political shape headed into next year. In a heads-up race against a Democrat, the odds would be very much against him.
But LePage might not be running in a heads-up race against a Democrat. That’s because independent Eliot Cutler might also enter the fray.
In 2010, Cutler ran against LePage and Democrat Libby Mitchell. As a moderate independent cut in the mold of Sen Angus King (I), Cutler competed with Mitchell for many of the same voters, clearing the way for LePage to win with a narrow plurality.
A bit further south in Rhode Island, there are also three-way contest considerations to be made. Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I), like LePage, is also facing tough political times. His approval rating was just 26 percent (!) in a Brown University survey released this week.
Chafee, like LePage, narrowly won a three-way race in 2010 But this time around, not even that may be enough to save him. A recent poll conducted by Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling showed Chafee doing poorly in numerous scenarios.
It’s also worth noting that there had been some chatter that Chafee, who used to be a Republican, might become a Democrat. But if his numbers stay this bad, it’s hard to imagine him being able to beat out other Democrats for the nomination.
Sometimes, deft navigation of three-way races can produce desirable results for a party, even when their nominee doesn’t win. The prime example: Senate Democrats’ posture in the 2012 Maine Senate race.
There is much left to be resolved before either 2014 race takes shape. But with such alarming polling numbers, don’t be surprised to hear LePage, at least, quietly humming the theme song to “Three’s Company.”
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): Conservative activist Kevin Smith is weighing another bid, but Republicans will likely have to come up with a more formidable opponent to have a chance against Gov. Maggie Hassan (D). Hassan is still barely into her first term, but New Hampshire elects governors every two years, forcing the her to move simultaneously into reelection mode. Unless Hassan starts to look really unpopular and some bigger names come calling, Democrats look like a fairly safe bet to hold on here. (Previous ranking: 15)
14. Wisconsin (Republican-controlled): Who can Democrats get to run against Gov. Scott Walker (R) after they already lost twice? There aren’t any obvious answers here. Walker has beaten Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) twice now, and Barrett and his top recall primary opponent, former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk, have each lost three statewide races now (including a total of five governor’s races between the two). Walker isn’t bulletproof, but he’s a very capable politician, which makes him a favorite for reelection despite his state’s slight blue lean. (Previous ranking: 13)
13. Connecticut (D): We have yet to see a good poll since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., but our sense is that Gov. Dan Malloy (D) has handled the tragedy well. After a rough start, Malloy seems to have righted the ship and should enter his likely rematch with former ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley as the favorite in a blue state. But Foley came oh-so-close to knocking Malloy off in 2010. (Previous ranking: 12)
12. Arizona (R): The prospect of 2012 Democratic Senate nominee Richard Carmona (D) running for governor is enough to get Democrats excited about 2014. But this is still very much a red state, and Carmona would face some of the same challenges he faced last year. That said, he’d be a top recruit. (Previous ranking: 11)
11. Massachusetts (D): Former Republican senator Scott Brown’s decision not to run for his old job this year moves Massachusetts up the Line. If Brown runs for governor — a possibility he seems open to — his name ID and fundraising ability would give him a competitive chance. 2010 GOP nominee Charlie Baker is also looking at the race. Some Republicans have even pondered what a Brown-Baker ticket might look. (Previous ranking: 14)
10. Ohio (R): Republican Gov. John Kasich’s remarkable turnaround continues. A Quinnipiac University poll released this week showed him sporting an approval rating over 50 percent, with a plurality of voters ready to give him a second term. The hot Democratic name is Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, who looks set to get in the race. Kasich is sill vulnerable, but a lot less so than he looked in 2011. (Previous ranking: 10)
9. South Carolina (R): Even though South Carolina is a Republican state, Democrats like their chances of making things competitive there, given GOP Gov. Nikki Haley’s less-than-stellar polling numbers. On the Democratic side, 2010 nominee Vincent Shaheen may run again. He didn’t lose to Haley by much in 2010 — and that was in a strong Republican year (Previous ranking: 9)
8. Pennsylvania (R): Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D) looks poised to challenge Gov. Tom Corbett (R). She’d be a very formidable challenger to Corbett, whose polling numbers suggest he is vulnerable. Schwartz would make history as the Keystone State’s first woman governor if she were elected (Previous ranking: 8)
7. Illinois (D): This much we know: The Democratic field is likely to include some combination of highly unpopular Gov. Pat Quinn, state Attorney General Lisa Madigan and former White House chief of staff Bill Daley. Assuming Quinn runs, he needs a crowded field to make up for his 33 percent approval rating. But even in that case, he would start out behind Madigan, according to a new Southern Illinois University poll. (Previous ranking: 7)
6. Michigan (R): Ever since signing a law making Michigan a “right to work” state late last year, Gov. Rick Snyder (R) looks like he has been trying to appease the political middle. His acceptance of Medicaid expansion might win him some support from moderates and Democrats, but they likely won’t soon forget the “right to work” decision. Still, it’s not clear who Democrats will run against Snyder. (Previous ranking: 6)
5. Virginia (R): Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) still says he is considering a run for governor as an independent. But it’s hard to believe that Bolling would ultimately want his legacy in this year’s race to be as spoiler for presumptive GOP nominee and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli III (R). If Bolling doesn’t run, the anticipated matchup between Cuccinelli and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe could be one for the ages. (Previous ranking: 5).
4. Rhode Island (Independent-controlled): Chafee has big problems, with just 26 percent of the state’s electorate giving him positive marks in the new Brown University poll. Meanwhile, his most likely Democratic opponents, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and state Treasurer Gina Raimondo, are both rated positively by more than twice as many Rhode Islanders. Anything can happen in a three-way race, but Chafee is looking like an underdog (to say the least) right now. (Previous ranking: 4)
3. Arkansas (D): A new poll out this week showed why this is a prime pickup opportunity for the GOP. Former congressman Asa Hutchinson (R) led the only declared Democratic candidate, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, by 16 points. Worth noting, though: Hutchinson led another potential candidate, former congressman Mike Ross (D), by just 5 points. And there are reportedly plenty of signs that Ross is rethinking his decision not to enter the race. (Previous ranking: 3)
2. Maine (R): LePage is not one of the Republican governors who has agreed to accept the Medicaid expansion under the federal health care law, but even if he was, it probably wouldn’t be enough, on its own, to save his job. LePage has rankled Democrats throughout his first term, and he remains he second most vulnerable incumbent on our list. To reiterate, his best (and perhaps only?) hope may be a three-way race that splits Democratic voters. (Previous ranking: 2)
1. Florida (R): Gov. Rick Scott (R) grabbed headlines when he agreed to accept an expansion of Medicaid that is part of the federal health care reform law he has so often bashed. But just like LePage’s refusal to budge on Medicaid won’t likely determine the outcome of his race, Scott’s decision probably won’t, on its own, determine his own fate. He remains the country’s most vulnerable incumbent right now. (Previous ranking: 1).