Washington Republicans are in a disarray of sorts. Republicans lost the shutdown fight. They have, for now, lost ground in the race for the House of Representatives in 2014. It's not clear that Republicans have found the sixth truly competitive Democratic Senate seat necessary to take control of that body in 2015.

Yet, it would also seem that Republicans outside of Washington are in much better position than they were at the beginning of the year. Talk had been that Democrats would win control of the majority of governorships in the 2014 elections. They need to have a net gain of five (assuming Terry McAuliffe wins Virginia's governorship in a few weeks). That is still a possibility, but it looks to be less than 50:50.

What happened? It's a combination of Democratic incumbents tumbling because of unpopular legislation and bad state economies, Republican incumbents recovering thanks to strong state economies and moving towards the middle and co-operating with President Obama, and dumb luck.

Where Democrats are sinking

The two states where Democratic governors have seen their stock fall since the beginning of the year also happen to be the states where gun control debates have taken center stage. Colorado and Connecticut suffered significant gun violence tragedies in 2012. Voters in these states initially praised the response from Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy.

Views have changed since then for the two endangered incumbents. Coloradans reacted adversely to gun control legislation signed into law by Hickenlooper. Two state senate Democrats have already lost their seats in recall elections. Hickenlooper's approval rating has fallen 20pt, into the mid 40s; more voters think he shouldn't be re-elected than should, and he's in a statistical tie with the very conservative Republican, Tom Tancredo.

Malloy's difficulty is that voters' happiness with him on guns has been overshadowed by dissatisfaction with him on pretty much everything else. The vast majority of voters disapprove of his handling of the budget, taxes, and the economy. His net approval is down 10pt; more voters think he should be replaced than re-elected, and he trails Republican Tom Foley in a 2010 rematch.

Combine these two races with the deeply troubled Governor of Illinois Pat Quinn, and you're looking at no fewer than three once stable-seeming Democratic incumbents in 2014 re-election trouble.

Where Republicans are rising

It was only a year and a half ago when Republican governors in the midwest looked like they had moved too far to the right. Governors John Kasich of Ohio, Rick Snyder of Michigan, and Scott Walker of Wisconsin were in deep trouble for re-election. A subset of voters hated Walker so much that they forced an almost unprecedented recall election in 2012.

Walker survived that challenge, and it looks like Kasich and Snyder may just survive their re-election fights, as well.

Kasich changed gears after voters declined to embrace cuts to collective bargaining for public unions. Focusing on the economy and embracing federal funding for an expansion of Medicaid, Kasich's approval rating is up 14pt since a year ago, thanks also to an economy most believe is improving. More Ohioans feel he deserves re-election than not, and he is ahead of his Democratic opponent by 14pt.

Snyder, too, focused on the economy after voters registered disapproval with Snyder's right-to-work legislation. Combining what voters viewed as strong management of the Detroit financial crisis and a push for Medicaid expansion, Snyder has boosted his favorable rating by 10pt and has turned a deficit into a mid single digit lead over his probable Democratic opponent.

Indeed, rising economies haven't only helped Republican governors in the midwest. Florida Governor Rick Scott has seen his approval rating rise by about 10pt since the beginning of year, as he has also embraced Medicaid expansion and is getting credit for an improving economy. The latest live interview survey that included cellphones within the sample has Scott down only 4pt, compared with 16pt in March.

Put these numbers together with Nikki Haley's rising approval rating in South Carolina, and five Republican governors who looked like goners are now either in the game or favored to win re-election.

Where Republicans are getting lucky

Maine Governor Paul LePage has no business winning re-election. He's a Tea Party Republican in a state that President Obama won by 15pt. The majority of Mainers disapprove (pdf) of LePage's job performance, and the most think the state is heading in the wrong direction.

The forces, however, that allowed LePage to become governor in the first place seem to be coming together again. Independent candidate Eliot Cutler, who took 36% of the vote in a three-way contest in 2010, is running for a second time. Unlike the last election, Democrats have a strong contender of their own in Mike Michaud. That is potentially the perfect combination for anti-LePage voters to split their allegiance, which would leave LePage with an opening for a second term.

The latest survey has Michaud at 33%, LePage at 30%, and Cutler at 24%. In other words, it's anyone's guess who will win. LePage probably won't get any higher than his 39% approval rating, though that percentage would almost certainly be enough in a three-way election.


There is now only one Republican governor who I would consider a definite underdog for re-election: Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania. This takeover has a better than 50% chance of being cancelled out by a Republican gain of an open seat in Arkansas. So, the likelihood that Democrats pick up governor's mansions in the 2014 midterms is not that great.

To be sure, there are, still, more vulnerable Republican governors than Democratic ones. It's just that, now, many of the Republicans who looked to be in serious danger earlier in the cycle are staging a comeback, while a few Democrats who looked good at one time are currently looking at troubling numbers.

Perhaps, the ultimate lesson in all of this is that Republicans are picking up steam by focusing on the economy and compromising with the president, particularly over the Medicaid expansion element of his signature healthcare legislation. This is the opposite strategy of many Washington Republicans, who are seeing their numbers tumble.

So, it would seem that Republicans outside the beltway might know something those inside it don't.


Harry J Enten

The GuardianTramp

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