Why Governors matter

Historically, being a Governor is a better springboard for presidential ambitions than either the Senate or the House of Representatives. Four of the last five US presidents, including George W Bush, previously held a gubernatorial office. From this perspective, the Democrats' outlook is gloomy: the four states with the largest number of electoral college votes all currently have Republican governors: California, Florida, New York and Texas.

In 2005, only two governorships are up for election, New Jersey and Virginia. Both are Democrat and neither can be considered very safe.

In New Jersey, the outgoing Governor Jim McGreevey resigned effective from midnight on November 16 2004. By doing so he avoided the need for a special election to find a successor. Given that Governor McGreevey resigned amidst allegations of a gay affair, and somewhat more lurid rumours, this was probably a wise precaution as far as the local Democratic Party was concerned. The acting Governor is New Jersey State Senate President Richard J Codey. In gubernatorial elections New Jersey is considered competitive between the two main parties, Mr McGreevey replaced Republican Donald DiFrancesco in 2001. New Jersey has 15 electoral college votes for the presidency.

In Virginia (13 electoral college votes), the Governor can only serve one four-year term of office. In recent years both Senators and the presidential race have produced Republican wins. The Governor's chair changed hands in the last election (2001). With the trend in the South away from the Democrats, Virginia must be considered a difficult hold, unless a strong candidate can be found.

The last two successful Democratic presidential candidates had previously held office as the governors of Southern states: Bill Clinton (1992 and 1996) in Arkansas and Jimmy Carter (1976) in Georgia.

If I were the Republican Party's election strategist, my worst fear would be another Clinton: a young, photogenic, amiable, Southern state governor.

Sleepless in Seattle

Seventeen days after polling has closed in the Northwestern state of Washington, we still don't know who the new Governor is going to be. A recount underway will determine whether Christine Gregoire, the outgoing State Attorney General (Democrat) or Dino Rossi, the Republican will take office in Olympia, replacing outgoing Democrat Gary Locke.

After counting more than 2.8 million votes, the provisional lead for Mr Rossi is 261 votes, or less than one tenthousandth of the turnout. The Libertarian Party candidate, Ruth Bennett has scored more than 63,000 votes, gaining 2.26 percent.

Details of the recount will be posted on this page.

Should the Republican win, it would be the first time a GOP candidate has held the governorship in Washington since 1980. It would also give a net gain to the Republicans in terms of governors nationwide. The present balance is 28 Republican and 21 Democrat, with Washington outstanding.


Pretty good forecasting

Looking back at my forecasting in July I find that my score was pretty good:

At this tentative stage, I put the presidency as marginally Bush, the Senate a Republican hold with an increased majority, the House of Representatives open but marginally Republican, and the Democrats to make no net gains in the governor stakes.

My electoral college analysis held up too. The six states that had every Presidential winner since 1972 had won came good for President Bush: Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee. The fact that the Democrat campaign was unable to focus on most of these states indicates the weakness of the Democratic Party in a purely demographic sense. It is strong mostly in parts of the USA that are stagnating. Unless the Republican Party loses its current drive to gain the support of Hispanic voters, which appears to be paying off, or does so at the expense of other demographic groups, the Democratic Party faces an uphill struggle to break out of its North East and Illinois stronghold. The inroads by Republican candidates in the West (Governor of California, possibly of Washington too) and the slide of Hawaii towards becoming competitive will not be halted by a repeat of the last two campaigns. Like the 1983 election in the United Kingdom, where the Labour Party was trounced, the margin between a close race and catastrophe can be a fine one. In 1983, the Labour Party gained one percentage point of the vote more than the Social Democratic Party and Liberal Party Alliance. It took two elections to return to some sort of electoral respectability.

For the Democrats this time, a lot of narrow wins in some states has masked the scale of defeat. With six states carrying 86 electoral colleges votes on majorities of 5 per cent or less the balance between a defeat that can be put down to Ohio and a landslide is a fine one.

In the Senate, the best win has to be that of David Vitter in Louisiana. According to Charlie Cook:

The two heroes for the Republican Party on election night were former Rep. John Thune, who unseated Minority Leader Tom Daschle, and Rep. David Vitter, who became the first Republican since Reconstruction to win a Senate seat in Louisiana. Both turned in extremely impressive performances as candidates and ran fabulous campaigns. Not to take away the other Republican victories, but there were some candidates who were more lucky than good.