Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s remarkable loss

August 11

Gov. Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, a man who bears more than a passing resemblance to former Gov. Jon Corzine of New Jersey, emulated Corzine in a way that he probably didn't anticipate: He lost his gubernatorial reelection bid on Saturday. Unlike Corzine, though, Abercrombie got completely demolished, losing by a greater than two-to-one margin -- the sort of obliteration that incumbents typically dole out, not receive.


Abercrombie lost reelection after being seen in public wearing Google Glass. (AP Photo/Oskar Garcia)

But it's worth noting that even if he'd lost by a point, Abercrombie's loss would have been surprising. According to our analysis, there were 381 gubernatorial races between 1984 and 2013. In only 41 of of those did the incumbent lose. In only seven of those did the incumbent lose in the primary.

That's a pretty remarkable number. As you can see, it's far more likely that an incumbent governor would be termed out than lose a reelection bid. In fact, for every two governors rejected by the voters, three left of their own volition. (Some of them, clearly, because they saw the writing on the wall, but still.)

Gubernatorial races come in peaks and valleys. Every four years, there's a huge rush of races all at once. But primary losses by incumbent governors don't really follow much of a pattern -- probably, in part, because they're so rare. There were three in the Republican wave elections of 1994 and 2010 -- and two in the 2004 presidential cycle. And it's a mixed bag of Democrats and Republicans, suggesting that, as with Abercrombie, the losses are probably more about the candidate then any sort of national moment.

If you take out governors who weren't running for reelection for whatever reason, the odds that a governor doesn't earn another term are more than 4-to-1. Which in and of itself doesn't mean anything's wrong with our democracy. People very often like their elected officials, and there's often a benefit in having a person that knows the job keep doing it.

But it still suggests that it's not terribly hard to keep your position as the chief executive of a state until you or the law says you have to get out. Lucky for Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii is an awfully nice place to take an early retirement.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He is based in New York City.
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