Judgment Day: Incumbents are in trouble

Posted on November 3, 2014November 3, 2014 by McClatchy-Tribune

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WASHINGTON (MCT) — They may or may not be bums, but voters are poised to throw a lot of politicians out on Tuesday.
Two-thirds of Americans see the nation on the wrong track. Confidence in the economy remains shaky. People are scared about terrorist threats and the Ebola virus.
They see their political leaders as inept, which means any ally of President Barack Obama is in trouble Tuesday, if people vote at all. Turnout is expected to be dismal. Dozens of officeholders are in trouble from Alaska to Florida.
Republicans stand to benefit most from this surly mood. Since they don’t control the White House or the Senate, the party is a slight favorite to win the six Senate seats it needs to take control of the chamber for the first time in eight years. But they’re not immune from the voter anger. Republicans control 22 of the 36 governorships at stake Tuesday, and at least a dozen incumbents are vulnerable, an unusually large number.
The only bloc likely to escape most of this voter rage is House of Representatives members. Republicans now have a 233-199 majority, a margin expected to grow. House Republicans are largely spared voter ire because both parties have drawn most congressional districts to protect their seats.
Voter frustration with government, though, is everywhere. People see Washington and many statehouses as unable to react quickly and efficiently to a procession of crises.
Since Obama’s the most prominent figure, voters see this mess as largely his.
“President Barack Obama no longer has the benefit of the doubt from the American people,” said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report. “When news events pop up, he gets connected to them, fairly or unfairly.”
All this helps energize an already eager Republican electorate. “The president is the Republicans’ main motivation,” explained Floyd Ciruli, a nonpartisan Denver-based pollster.
The math is kind to Republicans, who are well-positioned to win Senate races in seven states where Democrats now hold seats but that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won in 2012.
Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia are seen as relatively easy Republican pickups. Republicans are ahead in Louisiana and Arkansas, and close in Alaska and North Carolina.
Republicans could have an even bigger night if Democratic-held seats in Iowa, Colorado and New Hampshire fall. Polls suggest Democrats could lose seats in each state.
The common GOP refrain in each state with a Democratic senator: The incumbent voted with Obama at least 90 percent of the time on key Senate votes.
The more Americans remain concerned about the direction of the country, and see nonstop headlines about terrorism and Ebola, the better Republicans fare. A Pew Research Center survey earlier this month gave Republicans a 17 percentage point advantage over Democrats on handling terrorist threats. Republicans also were seen as better able to handle the federal budget deficit, the economy and immigration.
But the anti-incumbent tide could hurt Republicans, too. The public blamed them largely for the October 2013 partial government shutdown. People today see Democrats as the more empathetic party; Pew found that by 54 percent to 33 percent, voters thought Democrats cared more about “the needs of people like me.”
Republicans could lose seats they now hold in Georgia and Kansas and suffer a huge blow in Kentucky, where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell remains in a tight race with Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Governors face the same trouble as Washington Democrats: They’re in charge of governments that voters see as taxing them too much and fumbling responses to a procession of crises.
Some of the Republican governors elected in 2010, many touted as up-and-coming party stars, are fighting for their jobs, and in many cases, their political lives.
Among them: Florida’s Rick Scott, Michigan’s Rick Snyder, Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, Kansas’ Sam Brownback, Georgia’s Nathan Deal, Maine’s Paul LePage, Alaska’s Sean Parnell and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, who could see a possible 2016 presidential bid derailed.
Democrats have some vulnerable governors, too: Connecticut’s Dannel Malloy, Colorado’s John Hickenlooper and Illinois’ Pat Quinn.
–David Lightman
McClatchy Washington Bureau

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