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The Endangered Governors List: Democrat Edition

In 2010, Democrats picked up two open governors’ mansions and barely held onto a third. What lies in store for these embattled three?

While the Senate looks to be breaking in one direction, gubernatorial mansions across the country appear poised to swap parties. The last time, we discussed the three most vulnerable Republican incumbents. It is the Democrats’ turn in this edition, and none among them are more troubled than those in Illinois, Connecticut, and Hawaii. Four years ago, Gov. Pat Quinn barely survived, while Dan Malloy and Neil Abercrombie squeaked and strolled into open seats. Now? Let’s take a look.

Illinois: Pat Quinn (D-Inc) versus Bruce Rauner (R): Toss-Up

Quinn had an atrocious 34-60 percent approval rating per Public Policy Polling’s November 2013 release on this race, sadly the most recent survey to have such a measurement. He faces moderate Republican Bruce Rauner, who cleared a contested primary earlier this year. The polling so far on the race seems to indicate an edge for Rauner, and with the crosstabs of several of them indicating a strong (for a Republican) showing in Cook County, some have gone so far as to declare this race lean Republican:

RAUNER VERSUS QUINNThe problem with that is what happened in 2010. The governor had arguably worse ratings then, and trailed Republican candidate Bill Brady by an even wider margin at this time in the campaign:


While polling tightened in late fall, not a single pollster got the race right. A final Real Clear Politics average found a win for Brady of 4.7 points, but when the dust settled in November, Quinn won by half of a point. The very same thing can happen again in a state as blue as Illinois, even if the governor isn’t liked. As we saw with the Reid-Angle fight, and what might be happening in Scott-Crist, an unpopular incumbent can survive if they can convince undecideds that the devil they know is still the more palatable. This appears to be Quinn’s current strategy, and while it may not be paying off yet, most observers should be weary from trusting the data after what happened in the last round. Barring consistent polling showing Rauner over 50 percent, this race is anyone’s guess until Cook County’s votes have all been counted.

Connecticut: Dan Malloy (D-Inc) versus Tom Foley (R ): Toss-Up

In a state that has become increasingly blue over the last two decades, Malloy defied the red wave and a late surge for Foley to squeak his way into office. Since then, he saw a brief rise in his approval rating with the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, followed by a plunge over the budget fight, leading his 2010 foe to give it another go. Early on in the last round, Malloy enjoyed a modest lead:


Foley whittled away that lead, as already stated, as the red wave swept across the United States. With the 2010 cycle looking less like a wave, he probably doesn’t need to worry about such a surge again. The problem for Malloy this time: his record has hurt his approval rating, activated his opposition, and consequently, Foley is performing much stronger in 2014:


This doesn’t mean Malloy can’t win again, by any means. The race is a tie, but the state is increasingly Democratic, and Foley may have his own detractors among Republicans. Quinnipiac’s early horse race releases drew skepticism, but with YouGov and VoxPopuli confirming a rough ride for the governor, a close contest it most certainly is.

Hawaii: Neil Abercrombie (D-Inc) versus David Ige (D) (primary), versus Duke Aiona (R ) and Mufi Hannemann (I): Toss-Up (for Ds), Defeat in Primary (for Neil)

Abercrombie strolled into his current position with a massive win over Duke Aiona in November 2010. His big victory did not translate into a strong approval rating at the start of his term, however, and numerous events since have taken their toll. The governor went radical on addressing a state deficit, raising taxes, cutting pensions and benefits to retirees and current state workers (most of which were restored), and suspending tax exemptions to various businesses on the archipelago. This sent his approval rating plummeting in late 2011 to earn him the unsavory title of “most unpopular governor in America” from Public Policy Polling. His approval rating had risen since then, but he remains bogged in the forties:


Now, considering that Independents and Republicans don’t care for him, one, without looking at any additional black marks on his record, would assume that he would be facing better numbers from members of his own party. However, if the polling is even remotely accurate, the primary voters who decide his fate on Saturday almost mirror the statewide, all-voter sentiment:

ABERCROMBIE APPROVAL RATING PRIMARY VOTERSWhat the hell happened in Hawaii? I’m not alone in asking this question, and thought a quick read through more left-leaning websites and blogs would clue me in on a definitive answer. So far, I’ve seen everything from pension cuts to a mixed environmental record cited as a secondary factor, but the biggest black mark against him, among his own party, seems to be his decision to appoint his lieutenant governor, Brian Schatz, to fill the Senate seat vacated when Sen. Daniel Inouye passed in 2012. Apparently, the late senator had requested Abercrombie appoint Rep. Colleen Hanabusa to his seat after death. Hanabusa is running against Schatz in the Senate primary to be decided Saturday, and has made that quite the horse race as well. However, I have a hard time believing that the brushing off of a last request would get this negative a reaction: polling is all over the place in that race, while the gubernatorial primary seems to be going in one direction:

ABERCROMBIE V IGEPerhaps the “why” isn’t as important as “is this really happening?” All signs point to an upset Saturday, though Hawaii is, as the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake wrote Monday, a rough place to poll, the primary-ing of an incumbent Governor is extremely rare, and Abercrombie holds a monstrous media advantage over the lowly Ige. If he manages to hang on, he faces an interesting set of foes in November: Aiona is rested, hungry, and back for revenge, and a third-party candidate, Democrat-turned-Independent former mayor Mufi Hannemann, sees an opportunity to Crist his way into office as well. That hypothetical race, with the sparse polling we have, is anyone’s game:


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