Tom Corbett is the most endangered governor in the country

July 12, 2013

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) have a lot in common. Both midwestern swing-state Republicans who have faced efforts to recall their agenda or job, Walker and Kasich have bounced back to the point that both are viewed as potential 2016 presidential candidates.

And lately, they've shared another link. Both have waded into the contentious politics of abortion, a risky proposition ahead of the 2014 election.

(Scott Bauer/AP)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R). (Scott Bauer/AP)

Walker quietly signed a bill on July 5 to tighten abortion restrictions. Before that, Kasich signed a budget that includes provisions requiring abortion providers to attempt to detect a fetal heartbeart and will likely cut funding for Planned Parenthood. A judge delayed enforcement of the bill Walker signed, and Kasich's Democratic opponent is exploring challenges to the Ohio measure.

For two governors who have built a reputation on fiscal issues and efforts to curb collective bargaining for public workers, embracing abortion legislation sure to stoke anger on the opposite site might seem like a curious choice. But there are some reasons that may explain why they did it.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R). (Jay LaPrete/AP)
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R). (Jay LaPrete/AP)

For starters, the fight over abortion laws has moved to the forefront of the political conversation. It's an issue that has fired up both the liberal and conservative bases. So by embracing the push to tighten abortion restrictions, Walker and Kasich have endeared themselves to the conservative base -- which in off-year elections like 2014, can play an influential role in Wisconsin and Ohio, two states President Obama carried.

And if either governor is seriously thinking about running for president, playing a leading role in the abortion debate would only help their chances in the GOP primary campaign.

The danger is that Walker and Kasich risk giving moderate and liberal voters a new reason to vote against them in 2014. Kasich's once awful polling numbers have turned around dramatically. And Democrats haven't exactly been lining up to take on Walker. If the abortion debate galvanizes new opposition more than it fires up the conservative base, Kasich and Walker could end up regretting their decisions on abortion.

And now, to our list of the 15 seats most likely to change control. As always, No. 1 is most likely to change.

To the Line!

15. Minnesota (Democratic-controlled): The GOP primary to face Gov. Mark Dayton (D) keeps getting more crowded. State Rep. Kurt Zellers and state Sen. Dave Thompson both got in recently, joining businessman Scott Honour and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson. Dayton has never been overwhelmingly popular – either as senator or governor – but Minnesota is one of those blue states that has elected lots of Republicans as governor. In fact, Dayton in 2010 became the first Democrat to win a governor’s race since 1986. The question is whether the GOP nominates a quality candidate. (Previous ranking: 15)

14. Arizona (Republican-controlled): Gov. Jan Brewer (R) could pursue an unprecedented third term despite term limits in the state constitution, which she would have to challenge to run. She'll likely have competition if she does. Secretary of State Ken Bennett and state Sen. Al Melvin have launched exploratory committees and Cold Stone Creamery CEO Doug Ducey is looking at the race, along with Mesa Mayor Scott Smith. And feelings among many Republicans about Brewer's support for expanding Medicaid are still raw -- it could face a referendum on the 2014 ballot. (Previous ranking: 14)

13. Wisconsin (R): The buzz here on the Democratic side surrounds former Trek executive Mary Burke, whose business background and ability to self-fund have caught the eye of state and national party strategists. She hasn't announced yet whether she will run, but Republicans are already gearing up to go after Burke's 2011 remark about living in big cities on the east coast. (Previous ranking: 13)

12. Massachusetts (D): Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) is now giving a campaign some serious thought, after appearing to all but shut the door on running earlier this year. Don't let Coakley's disastrous 2010 Senate bid fool you; she is still very popular and would be the frontrunner for governor is she decides to take the plunge. (Previous ranking: 10)

11. Illinois (D): Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) still hasn't made up her mind about challenging Gov. Pat Quinn (D) in the primary. But she's already taking heat from over her father's position as speaker of the Illinois House. Former White House chief of staff Bill Daley, who has moved toward a run of his own, polled on the issue; David Axelrod (who says he isn't taking sides) called it a "serious problem." Still, Madigan is the heavy favorite if she gets in and has raised close to $5 million -- more than Daley or Quinn. (Previous ranking: 8)

10. Ohio (R):  Kasich recently hit his all-time high approval rating in a Quinnipiac poll, keeping up a remarkable rebound from the lows he experienced in 2011. Once Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald (D) builds some more name recognition, we'll have a better sense of the horse race. But for now, it's good to be Kasich. (Previous ranking: 9)

9. Colorado (D): Ahead of our previous round of rankings, we were surprised to see polling showing Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in such a tight race against Tom Tancredo (R). Since that time, Secretary of State Scott Gessler (R) released an internal survey showing him running neck-and-neck with the incumbent. Colorado is a swing state, so if Hickenlooper's woes prove to be more than temporary, expect this contest to receive more attention from Republicans. (Previous ranking: 12)

8. Connecticut (D): Another surprising Quinnipiac poll showed Malloy narrowly trailing his repeat opponent, Republican Tom Foley, 43 percent to 40 percent. Malloy has had lukewarm numbers throughout his tenure, but given Connecticut’s blue hue, it was hard to call this race a toss-up – or anything close to it – until now. We still give Malloy a slight edge, but Foley showed he’s a proven candidate in 2010 and Malloy hasn’t done much to suggest he’ll skate in 2014. (Previous ranking: 11)

7. South Carolina (R): State Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D) is keeping pace with Gov. Nikki Haley (R) this year when it comes to fundraising, an encouraging sign for Democrats here.  But Haley still has more money in the bank, which means Sheheen will have to pick up his impressive early fundraising pace to narrow the margin. (Previous ranking: 7)

6. Virginia (R): Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II  (R) acknowledged Thursday that the scrutiny on Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has become a "distraction" for his own campaign. It remains to be seen how big a shadow McDonnell's woes will cast upon the Republican candidates for office in Virginia this fall, but it's well worth watching. (Previous ranking: 6)

5. Michigan (R): Gov. Rick Snyder (R) is not in good shape, but Michigan Democrats don’t exactly have a deep bench of accomplished candidates these days. For now, their guy is former congressman Mark Schauer, a one-term member of Congress who lost in the wave of 2010. That may not be an ideal resume for a gubernatorial run, but Democrats seem to like Schauer, and he has an ability to appeal to the broader electorate. Schauer held a slight lead over Snyder in a recent poll from Democratic automated pollster PPP. And for now, he’s got a clear primary. (Previous ranking: 5)

4. Arkansas (D): This race has been slow to develop, but this much is clear, a pair of former congressmen, Democrat Mike Ross and Republican Asa Hutchinson, appear to be on a general election collision course. But before they can take on each other, Ross and Hutchinson have to get by primary challengers Curtis Coleman on the GOP side and Bill Halter on the Democratic side. (Previous ranking: 4)

3. Maine (R): It turns out Gov. Paul LePage (R) is going to run for reelection after all, ending speculation that he might make a congressional bid or retire. The only thing that is keeping hope alive for LePage is the presence of independent candidate Eliot Cutler, which will trigger a three-way race that is also expected to include Rep. Mike Michaud (D). But Michaud looks like a superior candidate to 2010 Democratic nominee Libby Mitchell, which is trouble for LePage. (Previous ranking: 2)

2. Florida (R): The Sunshine State is no longer in the No. 1 position. That's more a representation of what's been going on in Pennsylvania, but it also reflects some encouraging news for Scott. A recent Quinnipiac poll showed that voters are divided over his job performance, good enough for his best approval rating since he was elected. But Scott still trails Charlie Crist (D) by 10 points, which means the governor is still on very shaky ground. Crist's memoir about leaving the GOP is due out this winter. Might he time a campaign launch to coincide with its release? (Previous ranking: 1)

1. Pennsylvania (R): Gov. Tom Corbett (R) moves to the No. 1 spot for the first time this cycle after a month filled with truly terrible polling data. A Quinnipiac poll showed him with a 38 percent approval rating and trailing little-known (statewide, at least) Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D) by 10 points; a poll from GOP pollster Public Opinion Strategies showed him down 12 points; and a poll from GOP automated pollster Harper Polling showed just 24 percent of Pennsylvanians said he deserved reelection. We might actually be getting to the point where Republicans would be better served running someone else. (Previous ranking: 3)

-- Rachel Weiner contributed to this post

Updated at 1:24 p.m.

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