Republican governors up for reelection in 2014 and/or considering a presidential run in 2016 will no doubt make good use of recently released unemployment numbers.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports on January’s numbers: “The largest over-the-month increases in employment occurred in Texas (+33,900), Ohio (+16,700), and Arizona (+8,900).” That will not go unnoticed by governors Rick Perry of Texas or John Kasich of Ohio, both potential 2016 contenders. In addition, “The largest over-the-year percentage increase occurred in Nevada (+3.4 percent), followed by North Dakota (+3.3) (percent) and Texas (+2.9 percent).”
The Republican Governors Association provides further detail: “In Michigan, the unemployment rate has dropped over three points since Gov. Rick Snyder was elected. In November 2010, it was at 11.6% – today it’s at 7.8%, the lowest point since May 2008. . . . In Ohio, the unemployment rate was at 9.4% when Gov. John Kasich was elected in November of 2010. Today it’s at 6.9% – the lowest mark since August 2008. Ohio also created the second highest amount of jobs in January 2014, after Rick Perry’s Texas. . . . In Wisconsin, the unemployment rate fell to 6.1% – that’s a 2-point drop since Gov. Scott Walker was elected and the lowest mark since November 2008.” These are impressive records, and the basis in part for their popularity at home.
Democrats will argue that Republicans are not really responsible for these gains. But it’s hard to make the case that these states’ policies don’t have some impact on job creation. Indeed, the states at the top of the job loss list are all governed by Democrats. (“California (-31,500), followed by Illinois (-27,600), and Kentucky (-18,500).”)
Republicans, for a change, have a powerful pro-jobs, populist argument to deploy both in 2014 and 2016. It goes like this: The Democrats are the party of Obamacare (including taxes on high-tech medical-device companies and encouragement not to work); coal and gas regulation (which pleases Hollywood liberals and Vladimir Putin, but not workers in the heartland); big debt; public-employee unions and stifling regulation. Republicans will argue they are for real health-care reform, domestic energy development, fiscal sobriety, taxpayer rather than public employee protection and modest regulation. Republicans have the advantage of telling voters that if they doubt this formula, they need only look to the results in Michigan, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin, to name a few.
For 2014, Obamacare may be the GOP’s focus, but as the Republicans look beyond 2014 they will have to offer a broader agenda. One that is pro-middle and working class – and also addresses issues like school choice – offers the potential for the GOP to recapture critical swing states. It doesn’t require a candidate from humble beginnings (like Kasich or Walker), but that sure doesn’t hurt. The message, however, must be aimed squarely at the voters who the GOP couldn’t manage to corral in 2008 and 2012, who didn’t believe the GOP had something to offer them.
The notion that a message of pure anti-government rhetoric and one-word slogans (Tyranny!) will capture the imagination of mainstream voters is, I think, mistaken. The average person is not overcome with paranoid worries about the government coming to take their freedoms away. Voters want their politicians to do something, and ceding government reform and pro-jobs policies to the Democrats would be a fatal error. Most likely a few Republican governors will test that proposition in 2016.