Gover­nors the key to party come­back

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Dan Balz

When West Vir­ginia Gov. Jim Jus­tice an­nounced that he was leav­ing the Demo­cratic Party and re­turn­ing to the Repub­li­can Party, the move high­lighted once again the dom­i­nance of the GOP at the state level — and sig­naled to be­lea­guered Democrats the im­por­tance that the 2018 gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tions could play in start­ing a come­back.

With Jus­tice’s switch, an­nounced Thurs­day at a rally with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, Repub­li­cans now hold 34 of the 50 gov­er­nor­ships, ty­ing the record for the most ever for the GOP. Democrats, who at the be­gin­ning of the Barack Obama pres­i­dency held 28 gov­er­nor­ships, have seen their ranks dwin­dle to just 15. At some point over the past decade, ac­cord­ing to the Repub­li­can Gover­nors As­so­ci­a­tion, there has been a Repub­li­can gov­er­nor in 46 of the 50 states.

Repub­li­can con­trol of the states is even more lop­sided when the par­ti­san bal­ance of state leg­is­la­tures is in­cluded in the sta­tis­tics. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures, Repub­li­cans now hold the gov­er­nor’s of­fice and con­trol of the leg­is­la­ture in 24 states. Democrats en­joy to­tal con­trol in just seven, with 18 states hav­ing split con­trol. (Ne­braska has a Repub­li­can gov­er­nor and a uni­cam­eral, non­par­ti­san leg­is­la­ture.) Eight years ago, Democrats held the up­per hand, con­trol­ling 17 states to nine for the Repub­li­cans.

For Democrats, the rapid loss of power in the states is both cause for alarm and some rea­son for hope. Repub­li­cans posted enor­mous gains in the states and in Congress in the midterm elec­tions of 2010 and 2014. If it hap­pened for the GOP, Democrats ask, why couldn’t it hap­pen for them?

Midterm elec­tions for a new pres­i­dent gen­er­ally re­sult in losses, some­times sub­stan­tial losses, and Trump cur­rently suf­fers from the low­est ap­proval rat­ings of any new pres­i­dent at this point in a first term. That’s com­pounded by the fact that the pres­i­dent and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans have so far failed to en­act a health care bill, which could dampen en­thu­si­asm among many GOP vot­ers.

GOP strate­gists be­lieve they must pre­pare for a po­lit­i­cal cli­mate like that of 2006, when Repub­li­cans lost the House and sur­ren­dered their ma­jor­ity among gover­nors.

A year from now, the at­mos­phere might look bet­ter, if the econ­omy continues to ex­pand and Congress en­acts ma­jor leg­is­la­tion. If not, look for Repub­li­can gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­dates to dis­tance them­selves from Wash­ing­ton.

Democrats plan to make an is­sue of Trump in the state races. They also hope to see more in­tra­party tur­moil over al­le­giance to the pres­i­dent in Repub­li­can gu­ber­na­to­rial pri­maries.

Even if there are fa­vor­able con­di­tions for the Democrats, it is dif­fi­cult to over­state the sig­nif­i­cance of these 2018 con­tests for their longert­erm im­pli­ca­tions for the party. Win­ning more gov­er­nor­ships of­fers at least two po­ten­tial div­i­dends. First, it could bring new faces to a party des­per­ately in need of a rein­vig­o­ra­tion through fresh, younger tal­ent. Sec­ond, it could give Democrats more power in the re­dis­trict­ing bat­tles.

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